Practicing ArchitectureArchitect's Knowledge Resource
A comprehensive overview of rewards and perils of international practice for architects, this book draws on the experience of dozens of leading practitioners to presents lessons for the profession.
International Practice for Architects – Bradford Perkins, FAIA, Copyright 2008
This book is intended as an introduction to international practice. Because of the author’s direct, personal experience, the primary focus is on the issues facing architect, planners, landscape architects, and interior designers, but much of the material applies to other design disciplines as well [p. 1.]
Planning an International Practice
Many firms – mine included – stumble into their first international project. It is not uncommon to react like a dog that chases a bus and, to its surprise, catches it. Then what?
Most experienced firms agree that any international practice should be governed by a plan – even if it is developed after securing the first one or two projects. The costs and risks of international practice are too great to just play it by ear.
There is no standard format for a plan, but there are at least six basic issues that should be addressed: market analysis, goal setting, analysis of strengths and weaknesses, development of a marketing plan, management and operations, and a financial plan. [International Practice for Architects by Bradford Perkins excerpts from p.11-12]
The first question should be:
• What makes working in this country of interest?
• Is there a need for our services? For how long?
• Are good design and quality building valued?
• Who else is there?
• What does it take to be competitive?
• Are the prevailing fee levels adequate?
• Can the fees be paid in American dollars? Are there tax issues?
• What special skills resources and advisors are needed?
• What have the major risks and rewards been for the firms already working in the country?
• Are the local resources that can help us get and do the work efficiently?
Often the best sources for answers to these questions are other firms with experience in the country. Some of this is shared in conferences, some comes from friends in other firms, and some advice comes from other related disciplines – engineers, builders, and consultants. Useful information can also be obtained from the commercial section of the country’s U.S. Embassy: a variety of book, magazine, and online sources; and the firsthand impressions gained in exploratory trip.
The AIA Handbook Chapter on “Practicing in a Global Market” also recommends that “you can learn a lot about the history of a nation and the values of its people from literature, guidebooks, travelogues, and by attending seminars, all before you go abroad”. Some combinations of these sources is usually enough to develop preliminary answers to the questions listed above. Only firsthand experience and a constant effort to learn about working in a country will result in the answers need to be really successful.
Setting realistic goals is an important part of any plan. Some of the goals should be set in a firm’s discussions of the issues raised in this chapter. Others should be more specific:
• What country or countries will be the primary focus?
• What projects or project types will be targeted?
• How much time and expense will be budgeted?
• What results (new projects, types of projects, sales revenues, profits, etc.) make the effort worthwhile?
• What results will trigger abandonment of the effort?
• Does the long-term strategy involve a commitment to a permanent presence in the country? Will it be a marketing or representative office, a local technical liaison and support office, or an office able to offer services on its own?
[International Practice for Architects by Bradford Perkins excerpts from p.12]
How to Start
Most of us start with one or more exploratory trips. These trips may or may not be paid for by some small introductory assignments. The primary objective, however, is to flesh out a plan and to obtain an understanding of the basics of finding and doing work in the country. Among the issues worth studying are those outlined in the country discussions in Chapter 4, as well as those listed here. [International Practice for Architects by Bradford Perkins excerpts from p.19-20]
1. Is there a market for our services, and how long will it last?
2. Are there enough food reasons to make the effort?
3. What are the likely pitfalls, and how can they efforts
4. What skills and capabilities are essential for success
5. What peer firms are operating there now?
6. Who are the clients and what services and building –type expertise are most in demand?
7. What is the process for getting work?
8. How does one deal with the language and communication issues?
9. What are the licensing and other legal requirements
10. Are the prevailing fee levels, payment terms, and tax structures such that it is possible to a make a profit?
11. What are the major contract-negation issues?
12. Are there local resources – associate firms, engineers, etc. - who can help
13. What are the design traditions and client – design preference?
14. What code and regulatory issues are important, and how do you navigate through them?
15. What is the typical scope of services, and how do projects get done?
16. What are the typical projects schedules?
17. What are the construction capabilities, normal construction materials?
18. Is the country safe to work in?
19. What are the most common problems facing design professionals working in the country?
20. What are the most important pieces of advice you need to get during this exploratory phase?