For the second consecutive month, the Architecture Billings Index (ABI) indicated a modest increase in design activity in March. 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.

The American Institute of Architects reported the March ABI score was 51.7, up from a mark of 50.4 in February. This score reflects an increase in design services (any score above 50 indicates an increase in billings). The new projects inquiry index was 58.2, up from a reading of 56.6 the previous month.

“Business conditions at architecture firms generally are quite healthy across the country. However, billings at firms in the Northeast were set back with the severe weather conditions, and this weakness is apparent in the March figures,” said AIA Chief Economist Kermit Baker. “The multifamily residential market has seen its first occurrence of back-to-back negative months for the first time since 2011 while the institutional and commercial sectors are both on solid footing.”

Key March ABI highlights:

• Regional averages: South (54.5), Midwest (51.0), West (50.4), Northeast (45.8).

• Sector index breakdown: institutional (53.2), commercial / industrial (53.0), multifamily (49.7), mixed practice (46.2).

• Project inquiries index: 58.2.

• Design contracts index: 52.3.