How small U.S. Architectural Firms are Profiting from China's Economic Boom

Photo by Jose Maria Cuellar

It is a known fact that larger architectural firms have been commissioned work in China for years, giants such as Steven Holl Architects and Goettsch Partners are known to have well-established satellite offices in Shanghai. Without a doubt, Chinese work has filled the void left by the less than impressive American economy, but it is only within the past decade that these projects have been extended to smaller architectural firms within the United States.

Find out how small U.S. architectural firms are profiting from China’s economic boom after the break.

Preston Scott Cohen and Zoka Zola are two, small architecture firms based in the U.S. who have recently experienced this Chinese economic upswing. Each has been commissioned projects by Chinese clients, and each has responded to the program in an ultramodern, elaborate fashion. However, it should be noted that the all-encompassing projects petitioned by Chinese clients are ambitious from initiation; more often than not they strive for a significant architecture, and are fully entrusting of the Architect to accomplish this.

Photo by Spreng Ben

China has employed American firms chiefly due to their experience with luxury-type construction; high-rises, upscale apartments and American-style mansions have been in high demand. The flourishing of modern construction in China is not at all unlike the U.S.’s once existent economic prosperity, the monumental-type constructions have been enhancing China’s eminence. The American architect is highly respected in China, mostly due to their abilities to design on a massive scale, while transferring conceptual ideas into reality. According to Chinese developers, this is what is seemingly lacking in Chinese architects, as well as experience with such projects, and why they seek out American firms for their ambitious projects.

Photo by Trey Ratcliff

It is undeniable that the average American architect would be anything but flattered to do work in China; the Chinese are even known to be better clients than their American equivalent. Fewer design restrictions, along with a less fastidious, more ambitious way of thinking has American architects drooling at their sketchbooks.  This enticing market enables architects to design without restriction, to create poetic, provocative architectural masterpieces, apart from the agitation of an overbearing client or programmatic necessities. It is architecture for architecture’s sake, made possible by generous budgets and bold clients looking to make an unforgettable impression.

Photo by Trey Ratcliff

Is China the United States’ new architectural oasis? In a place where the plunder is seemingly infinite and architectural masterpieces are cherished, it could be so.  Swift construction, little to no interaction or compromise with the client, and munificent funds make China the ideal frontier for even the smallest American architectural firm.  China’s exponential growth also guarantees the demand for these types of multi-use projects; as well as the bodacious display of affluence.

Photo by Trey Ratcliff

Photographs: Trey Ratcliff, Spreng Ben, Jose Maria Cuellar References: Lawrence W. Cheek, Danny King,

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Cite: Sarah Edwards. "How small U.S. Architectural Firms are Profiting from China's Economic Boom" 19 Sep 2011. ArchDaily. Accessed . <> ISSN 0719-8884

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