Bell brought up the New York Now exhibition AIA NY puts on annually highlighting projects by the state’s architecture practices. This year, AIA decided to open the exhibit to projects outside the state. After first glance, Bell said, he saw that around 20 percent of the projects were overseas, and “not just offices towers in China”: education projects, hotels, resorts, in Korea, the Middle East, but also “less predictable” locales like Panama and Portugal, “places at least I haven’t heard of planning commissions. I find that very heartening.”

“International markets that were stymied came back quickly, and international projects are now probably 30 percent of our practice,” compared to 15-20 percent in 2008, said Schwarz. “Our expertise in design programming and planning can be exported to those countries and imported by our offshore offices.”

An Uncertain Future While there are indeed some indicators that work is coming back to designers, there are few economic indicators to give cause for downright optimism.

“I’ve heard things stabilizing, some folks rehiring people they’ve let go—but there’s still a long way to go,” Kliwinski said. “I’m cautiously optimistic. It’s still a pretty tough situation that a lot of people are in.

“The biggest challenge over the next 12 months is the credit market, and it’s beyond our control, but it’s what makes or breaks the design industry. “

“In the absence of liquidity and funding for projects put on hold, things starting to come back to life is not necessarily reflected in the architectural billings index,” said Bell. “Release numbers that show a, quote, small uptick, doesn’t mean everyone’s jumping up and down that the recession is over. It’s anecdotal—we see here [in New York] a diminishing of layoffs. … I don’t know if it’s cause for excessive optimism, but these things do have cycles.”

“With all the projects, there were times over the last decade when it was like shooting fish in a barrel, and I believe it’s not going back to that level,” Schwarz said. “We will have to sharpen our pencils on how to compete—it will not be easy just to get work.”

On the other hand, designers are mindful of being too afraid to move on.

“We have to be careful that, after the irrational exuberance [pre-2008], followed by the past two years, we are not being overly cautious as work comes back,” said LaPosta.

“The nature of the economy is changing,” Bell said. “It changed from industrial to post-industrial, from a service economy to an information economy. What’s next?

“If I knew,” he said, “I’d be an investor.”