Secrets of Success for Architects in China: Insights from the Men and Women Who Built Modern China – A Synopsis

Secrets of Success for Architects in China grew out of a 20-year history of working with architects through my visualization business. The experience gained in working with architects from all parts of the globe brought into focus that the rules for architecture in China were somewhat different than in other parts of the world.

It was my intention to seek insight into these differences by seeking the knowledge and comment from twenty-eight leading architects from world renowned architecture companies in addition to reflections from two major Chinese property developers and a former Director of the Land Planning Bureau in a major city.

This book then is a collection of interviews where the participants were asked a series of questions based around the major areas of management of an architecture business. Areas included management of cross cultural staff, managing cash flow and getting paid, dealing with the Local Design Institutes, dealing with local developers as opposed to western based developers and insights into both successful projects and unsuccessful projects.

The book was written as an educational tool for anyone wishing to practice architecture or related design work in China and was specifically meant to give a deep understanding of the issues and practices that are required if you want to be successful in China.

Architects have carved out a major space in China and have contributed an enormous amount in terms of not only changing the physical fabric of society but have also changed the social fabric by creating space here people can live and work in a manner completely different to the manner in which they lived previously before the wave of development took hold in China.

The 28 contributors to the book were a cross section of the design architecture industries – architects making up the bulk of the interviews but also interior designers, landscape designers, developers and comment from the chief architect of Shanghai Disneyland. There were also a number of smaller architect practices represented to bring a different perspective on how to navigate the design environment in China.

The contributors collectively have a massive amount of experience in China – literally adding up to hundreds of years and hundreds of projects – and with such experience there was a great deal of credibility in the level of advice that was given.

Some of the most famous names in architecture are represented here: Gensler, HOK, Perkins Eastman, CallisonRKTL, Benoy, SOM, DLR, Woods Bagot to name just a few of them. These architects have made an indelible stamp on China – buildings such as the Jin Mao Tower or the Shanghai Tower are discussed and analyzed in the interviews.

Over the gamut of interviews there are a number of points of view that were common to nearly all of the contributors. The main areas that shared this commonality were:

  • Adapting to local cultures,
  • Building relationships,
  • Engaging and managing the right local staff and partners.
  • Whether to learn Mandarin
  • Talking to the right people.
  • And the right way to get paid for the job.

Each contributor was asked for the single most important piece of advice that could be given to a new entrant into the market, and these nuggets of advice are the distillation of advice that was hard won in China over long periods of time.

The final question that was asked of each contributor was a crystal ball question – where is China heading, which areas are going to be successful and which areas are not going to be successful – the resulting collection of advice maps out a future strategy for any new entrant into the market – areas such as existing building renovation, expanding into Tier 3and 4 cities, repurposing of buildings and a definite move away from residential and commercial buildings.

In addition, there is a section of the book – Learning the Way of the Dragon –  that describes some of the general business lessons that an entrant into the Chinese business environment needs to understand, learn and practice if they wish to be successful in China.  In this chapter things like the real meaning of that ubiquitous term ‘guanxi’ are explored. A number of the ‘rules’ from doing business in China are enunciated – lessons that I was privileged to learn over nearly 25 years of doing business in China and rules which make the road of business in China much smoother.

Rules such as: Boots on the Ground’ the concept that China cannot be managed from afar and that the depth of relationships that must be cultivated and the need for a much deeper understanding of the actual market and bureaucratic environment can only be gained by a solid and sensitive presence in China itself and that it is impossible to fly in and out and expect to prosper in China.

The concept of ‘Walking Slow and Running Fast’ whereby it takes such an incredibly long time to get a business transaction to the point of a green light and how many western companies fail to understand the energy of a deal once it has been decided and that they must work at an incredibly fast pace (Running Fast) to match the velocity of the Chinese partner.

Driving in China is a metaphor doing business in China by comparing three of the unofficial rules of driving: Flow like water, Don’t Hit Anyone, and Expect the Unexpected with strategies and understandings of how to manage business and relationships in China.

The section ‘Learning the Way of the Dragon’ can be read by anyone who is working or doing business in China. It is a distillation of years of observation and discussion about how China differs from other countries in how business is managed.

The book is a road map that shortens the distance to success in China in the field of architectural design as well as looking at the success of the architects who have already made their mark on the fabric of Chinese development.

You can buy the book from Amazon:

And from Barnes and Noble:

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