3 Tips for Working in Rising Asia

With high-end projects sprouting up all over China and India, now is a great time to explore the world of international practice. Here are a few tips for a smooth cultural assimilation.

by Robert Nieminen

For the architect or designer working abroad, globalization is more than just a corporate buzzword; it’s a palpable concept that produces both opportunities and challenges thanks to the rapid growth of emerging markets in recent years.

“Globalization has become the norm for a lot of design firms like us,” said Paul Phillips, AIA, LEED AP, and principal at Karn Charuhas Chapman & Twohey (KCCT). It’s no wonder, either, given the pace at which many second- and third-world countries are now developing. The Harvard Business Review predicts that developing markets could account for more than 70 percent of global economic growth over the next few years, with China and India accounting for 40 percent alone.

As more North American firms begin to establish a presence overseas, learning to adapt and develop successful business models is vital. We spoke to a few design firms with extensive experience abroad to determine what to keep in mind—and what to avoid—when working in China and India.

reset your pace of business
Respecting the customs and traditions of different cultures while visiting or working in another country is a no-brainer, but as Westerners, we often make the misguided assumption that assimilation will be nearly immediate and that projects will follow similar timetables to those at home.

“American architects fare much better when they take time to absorb and understand local culture and show patience in their international business dealings,” said William E. Alisse, AIA, principal at TPG Architecture, London. “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.”

Depending on which country you’re working in, the design and construction process can take much longer than one might expect, so be prepared for the long haul. Brad McNamee, AIA, senior vice president at WATG, learned this lesson firsthand while working on a Ritz-Carlton project in Bangalore, India.

“I think for India, in particular, you’ve got to have patience,” he emphasized. “It took almost seven years to get [the hotel] opened from when we started the design work, which is significantly longer than most projects.”

In China, on the other hand, the decision-making process is much quicker—perhaps too fast—according to McNamee. “The demands are almost unrealistic in getting things completed,” he said. “They’re pushing much harder for most of those projects in most cases.”

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