Housing woes halt architects' plans

An architect goes over design plans.

Jason Gibson

Jennifer Atcher

TEXT OF STORY

STEVE CHIOTAKIS: So a lot of people believe the housing market got us into this mess. And as more and more Americans have been laid off, office buildings have emptied out. And that's hit one profession pretty hard: architects.

Marketplace's Jeremy Hobson spent a couple of weeks traveling through the state of Tennessee for our series on how the recession and recovery are being felt in the heartland. And he starts off the series with this report.


GEORGE COSTANZA IN "SEINFELD:" Why couldn't you make me an architect? You know I always wanted to pretend that I was an architect...

JEREMY HOBSON: Back in the boom real estate years of the 90s, Seinfeld's George Constanza wasn't the only person who dreamed of T-squares. But these days, after a severe collapse in both residential and commercial real estate, many in the business only have a part-time job.

I met with Jason Gibson and Jennifer Atcher in a brand new brewery. It's in a Nashville neighborhood called the Gulch. About a decade ago, the city decided to transform this near-downtown area -- fill it with condos, office buildings, restaurants and shops.

GIBSON: Of the three major buildings, one is bankrupt at this point, one is about 65 percent full and one is only about 25 percent full.

HOBSON: So we are right in the middle of boom and bust Nashville right now?

GIBSON: Absolutely, yeah, you're right.

And the bust hit home for these two.

JENNIFER ATCHER: We were both laid off the same day.

They're not the only ones. Since the peak in the summer of '08, the number of employed architects nationwide has dropped by 25 percent. For Jennifer Atcher, the layoff meant cutting out luxuries and getting a roommate. And for Jason Gibson, it meant putting aside plans to buy a house.

GIBSON: You just continue to rent and pay the bills, and that's the biggest difference is really just living week to week really, which is different than what I was used to with a paycheck coming in.

HOBSON: Architecture is a very difficult field to be in right now. Have you thought to yourself, I wish that I hadn't gone this route?

ATCHER: Well, it's interesting you don't really realize how specific it is until you start to look at possibly going into other fields. But you do question yourself, and it's an ever-evolving occupation and I definitely think because of this recession it's gonna come out looking a little bit differently than it did when we went in.

Both Atcher and Gibson have been hired back as freelancers by their old firm. They get about half as much work as they used to. Unemployment covers the off weeks. They say they've gotten so used to their on-again, off-again jobs. It's become "what they do."

In Nashville, I'm Jeremy Hobson for Marketplace.


CHIOTAKIS: By the way, Jeremy asked everyone he met in Tennessee whether they're feeling a recovery. You can hear their responses and give us an answer of your own in our special series "Signs of the recovery."

About the author

Jeremy Hobson is host of Marketplace Morning Report, where he looks at business news from a global perspective to prepare listeners for the day ahead.

Jason Gibson

Jennifer Atcher

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