Architectural billings remained mired in negative territory for a second-consecutive month in April, despite optimism that business conditions are improving, according to the  American Institute of Architects Architectural Billings Index

Although the national index rose from 48.8 to 49.6 from March to April, only scores above 50 denote an increase in billings. The Midwest logged a slight increase, from 46.6 to 47, for the same period. Other regions logged dramatic downturns, with the East falling from 46.8 to 42.9 and the West from 50.7 to 48.9. Only the South remained in positive territory, rising from 52.8  to 57.5 between March and April.

Several sectors showed improvement in April with multi-family residential rising from 52.1 to 52.6, commercial/industrial  from 49.6 to 50.2, and mixed-use from 47.6 to 50.7). By comparison,  institutional declined from 49.0 to 47.1.

In April, AIA conjectured that a lingering winter may have contributed to softening demand in March. Weather conditions have since improved, and AIA anticipates an uptick in demand in coming months.

"Despite an easing in demand for architecture services over the last couple of months, there is a pervading sense of optimism that business conditions are poised to improve as the year moves on," says AIA Chief Economist Kermit Baker."With a healthy figure for design contracts this should translate into improved billings in the near future."

As a leading economic indicator of construction activity, the ABI reflects the approximate nine to twelve month lead time between architecture billings and construction spending.

Other indicators, including construction employment, suggest conditions are improving in the Midwest and elsewhere.