China is new magnet for architects

Thursday 11 Nov 2010

WAN talks to Kristian Ahlmark from shl to find out how the Chinese market is changing...

Many architects are heading for China; there certainly seems to be work there, perhaps a quarter of the tender opportunities tracked by WAN Tender Alerts this week have been in China. But it's not easy to win work there. One practice with much experience in the country is schmidt hammer lassen architects. Kristian Ahlmark, head of their Copenhagen office, says they now complete about 10% of their work in China.

"You have to be there, present in the market", he says. "We opened in Shanghai in 2006. We've found that the Chinese market is definitely buying design." This is a reference to a change perceived in the market, with clients moving from buying icons to buying good design, often looking to bring in outside ideas and influence.

An example is their Andersen Garden scheme - a large, multi-tower residential development where shl were able to challenge the expectation of the client on internal apartment layout. "Chinese flats give a lot of space to corridors, but we wanted to have as few as possible, and open the private rooms directly on to the main living space", says Kristian.

They were able to successfully mount this challenge because the client, a private developer, was open-minded to ideas which would increase the value of his development. It helped that many of the flats were intended for sale to non-Chinese, but this is definitely a sign that Chinese clients want new ideas.

Sustainability matters in China too. You can see this in the landscape work on the Shanghai Houtan Park by Turenscape. It's also evident in shl's Wuxi masterplan. There they have produced a plan for a significant residential scheme that uses orientation to prevailing winds and the presence of water to provide cooling in the summer and comfort in the winter. This development also incorporates green roofs an ability to bring in sustainable design is an advantage in china.

Be warned though, fees will not rise for these skills. "Sustainability sells, but they won't pay for it!"

Ross Sturley

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