“Made in China.” For so many in Western nations, this phrase conjures up a plethora of horrific images. There is the Human Rights argument: low wages, inhumane working conditions, and so forth. Then there is the issue of quality, as in, there is none.
First let’s talk about human rights in terms of manufacturing. The favored discourse is that Chinese factories exploit their employees and hence the resultant quality of the goods is far inferior. Sensational stories that support this conclusion always seem to cross international lines. Moreover, there are basic protestations of Human Rights’ violations and then the specter of Tibet is raised.
What many do not know is that wages are actually on the increase in China. So much so that some are proclaiming that the era of manufacturing in China is over. Moreover, these same critics never seem to protest the Human Rights’ violations by their own countries, often occurring in their own neighborhoods. There are sweatshops in the U.S. which are not just limited to clothing. The incarceration rate of Afro-American males for non-violent first offenders, as well as the U.S.’s infant mortality rate (just above Croatia, Belarus, and Kuwait) are some other human rights problems.
Cheap things are cheap, no matter where they are made. What is missing from these discourses (that coincidentally reaffirm the superiority of those doing the judging) is that many goods made both in China and in Chinese factories outside of China are high quality. This ranges from Apple Ipods and Ipads to luxury French and Italian goods. In fact, many factories are located in those countries so the labels can claim they were made in-country. And some fashion labels like Marc Jacobs openly proclaim their provenance.
In short, “Made in China” can offer a lot, including to architecture firms. Building components. Services. Partnership (which incidentally can help change their corporate culture). Like their Euro/American counterparts during the 19th and early 20th centuries, the rapid industrialization of China means that they embrace the latest technologies in all fields. What’s more, there is so much competition amongst Chinese firms that one is bound to find a satisfactory partner or provider.
So how exactly can architecture firms benefit? Ironically, an article that came out yesterday in the Telegraph discusses just that. There is the bridge destined for San Francisco: the last components are being made in Shanghai and will be shipped next month. Completed projects range from schools to apartment buildings. Future ones include a casino, refurbishing another bridge in New York, making a new one in Serbia, and several other projects around the world. There are innumerable contracting services provided by Chinese construction firms which are often called engineering firms. Indeed, according to one report, five of the top ten engineering and construction firms of the world are Chinese.
In L.A., projects include one that is using a steel and glass manufacturer in China to fabricate complex building components which will then be shipped to the site for installation. A sample made by a local company was twice as expensive, and what’s more, it wasn’t as well-made, either. Another project not only had all the exterior elements fabricated in China, but the interior ones as well. That included everything down to the cabinetry. Interestingly, the label of “Made in China” was downplayed, but why should that be?
In short, while other industries have taken full advantage of China’s open doors, architecture has some catching up to do. But with so much on offer, that is a good thing.
New book out soon! ‘The Real Architect’s Handbook: Things I Didn’t Learn in Architecture School’, by Sherin Wing and Guy Horton.