Housing Market: Architects Get Lean, Green and Senior

The real estate recession has cut architecture and design companies to the quick. There were 219,000 architects on firms' payrolls in 2008 as the housing market was cratering; last June, only 166,000 architects were employed full-time at firms across the nation, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Building starts in Dallas-Fort Worth, for example, are a quarter of what they were during the boom, builders tell me. With so few new homes going up, what's an architect to do?

Think small. Dallas-based D2 Architecture has found a niche even in this depressing housing market by focusing on existing home renovations and smaller-scale design projects. The most common projects? Nursing homes, or at least what used to be called nursing homes. Archictect David Dillard's firm consists of 12 employees, many of whom transferred to D2 from the Dallas office of a 62-year-old Baltimore-based architectural firm that shuttered last October, CSD Architecture. Dillard shut down the company and watched 120 employees leave. But then, with eight of those employees, he turned around and started D2 with a new specialization in the last remaining well-to-do demographic: Senior citizens.