Building Boston 2006
by Evan H. Shu, FAIA
The annual Build Boston conference, now in its 22nd year, was held in November 2006. Over 15,000 attendees explored important recent developments in the design/ construction industry at this trade show brimming with 350 booth exhibits and over 230 seminars.
Robert Murray, analyst for McGraw-Hill Construction, presented his annual assessment of U.S. economic trends. Although residential work, especially single-family housing, is down sharply, nonresidential construction is still strong. He said there is "no collapse, by any means" in the foreseeable future. He noted that the construction industry as a whole has been remarkably stable over the last 10 to 15 years.
Murray expects a modest decrease of one percent for total construction in 2007, as strength in public works and in manufacturing and institutional buildings counteract an expected weakness in single-family housing, income properties, and electric utilities.
Steadying material prices, still supportive but climbing lending rates, and major governmental rebuilding projects are expected to provide a "soft landing" in construction while contributing to a two-percent growth in the overall U.S. economy in 2007.
Gulf Coast Rebuilding
With over $110 billion appropriated by Congress to aid the Gulf region devastated by Hurricane Katrina, the conference reflected great interest in rebuilding and current recovery efforts. One seminar, "Heritage at risk — New Orleans and the Gulf Coast," was a fascinating account of how the disaster happened.
Presenter Michael Desmond of Louisiana State University showed how the Mississippi River channel is constantly trying to move and, ironically, how the flood-dropped sediment builds natural levees. The natural levees did not fail in 2005 — only the manmade ones did.
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Louisiana architecture styles from the "Louisiana Speaks: Pattern Book," by Urban Design Associates, part of a presentation at the 2006 Build Boston conference.
Image: Courtesy Louisiana Recovery Authority
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People of all income levels were left homeless by Hurricane Katrina and moved to trailers, even those who managed to save their Rolls Royces.
Photo: Mississippi Heritage Trust
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