Architects have diversified in terms of professional services and market sector reach, but if design practices don’t also tackle the challenge of working internationally, they will risk losing the overwhelming number of clients that do. It is critical that firms evolve project methodologies for working abroad, because we need to deliver the same quality of service and design excellence achieved at home anywhere in the world.
Focus on where your clients have already expanded and confirm where they want to be. American creative talent is highly valued in developing countries, particularly in Latin America, the Far East, India, West Africa and the new second tier of expanding Chinese urban centers.
Turkey, Poland, Brazil and newcomer Myanmar are especially promising markets
with new growth demands that can benefit
from our well-established design expertise. There is less opportunity in Western Europe at this time, due not only to the ongoing economic pressures, but also the abundance of well-educated and equally dynamic European designers generating works that compare favorably in terms of planning, sustainability and flair.
Most firms unable to establish a foreign presence do well to develop a foreign network of architectural practices, engineering firms and local vendors with whom they can partner effectively to help resolve local implementation issues, such as foreign code compliance, local means and methods, filing and building permits, product sourcing, etc. But choose your local affiliates carefully to ensure the practices you select have a comparable work ethos and compatible technologies; they must also understand the quality standards, timeframe and budget restraints that define your project.
American architects fare much better when they take time to absorb and understand local culture and show patience in their international business dealings. Once you secure respect and cooperation from the local design community, you can aspire to the many rewards of working abroad—larger scale project opportunities, expanded global resources, newfound markets, and the chance to grow and evolve alongside your increasingly multinational client base.
William E. Alisse, AIA is principal of international projects at TPG Architecture and managing director of TPG’s London office.