Architects in New York Now Scramble for Jobs

Article excerpt

NEW YORK - The virtual evaporation of significant new construction projects in New York City is deeply hurting the architectural profession, forcing firms to lay off employees, cut their fees, diversify their practices and search for work in other cities and countries.

During the expansive 1980s, architects came to enjoy near-celebrity status, as they remade the city's skyline. Now, they are scrambling for work.

``Everyone is slowing down,'' said Lenore Lucey, executive director of the New York Chapter of the American Institute of Architects. ``Or, if they're busy now, they are looking at slowing down by the end of the year.''

Many firms continue to work on major office and apartment projects that germinated in the late 1980s. Times Square, for example, still looks like one vast construction site.

But as that work nears completion, 27 million square feet of space in mid-Manhattan is unrented, the market is soft and developers are not starting new towers that would sustain architectural employment. For many firms, the New York City pipeline is empty.

Although those in charge of the 42nd Street redevelopment effort insist that it will happen, other projects announced with great fanfare in the 1980s seem to be indefinitely stalled - for example, Columbus Center, on the site of the New York Coliseum; Trump City, on the Penn Yards along the Hudson River and South Ferry Plaza, at the Staten Island ferry terminal in lower Manhattan.

``January, February and March were almost still in terms of client action,'' said Richard Carlson, a principal in Swanke Hayden Connell, which traces its origins to 1906. As recently as the mid-1970, 99 percent of its revenues were generated by New York City projects. Now that figure is closer to 60 percent.

To some extent, architectural offices have always followed the boom-and-bust development cycle in real estate. Whether the situation today is as bad as the economic slump of the mid-1970 when the city was in its fiscal crisis, is a matter of debate.

Some firms have held their work forces relatively steady. Overall statistics for New York City showed an increase in employment in architectural services through last fall.

Many architects are strengthening their interior design, planning, renovation and preservation practices. They are finding work in institutional development and are also accepting more modest commissions than they might have a few years ago.

But even the most optimistic architects, whose practices have remained virtually intact, concede that the profession is suffering. And others are not optimistic at all.

``I would guess right now that there are more unemployed architects in New York than there were in the '70s,'' said Richard Roth Jr., chairman of Emery Roth & Sons, one of the most prominent New York architectural offices for many decades.

``My impression of the industry, in the major offices, is that we've lost between 10 and 15 percent of our employment base in the past year,'' said Martin D. …