While The WA100, Building Design’s annual ranking of the world’s largest architecture firms, isn’t perfect (see our controversial article here), it does reveal a lot about the state of architecture today. And for 2013, the ranking shows that there are finally brighter days ahead for architects - just not at home.
BD’s research reveals that China remains the world’s largest construction market (a title it’s held since 2010); that the Asia-Pacific Market is expected to be the largest by 2020 (with projected value of $4.6 trillion dollars); and that China, India, and Brazil offer the best growth potential for architectural services. Not surprisingly, the survey’s top three ranking firms - Aecom, Gensler, and IBI Group - all have a significant presence in these markets.
However, are these mega-firms really the best models to aspire to? With the economic crisis making it everyday more evident that there are more opportunities abroad than at home, where is a firm to go? China? India? Brazil?
Almost certainly not.
Find out whether/where you should go abroad, after the break...
Just as smaller firms that go abroad, larger firms are also vulnerable to competition in a global market. BD Editor in Chief, Amanda Baillieu, warns: “For a global practice wanting to expand the choices can seem overwhelming. Stick with the big three - China, Brazil and India - and the competition is always going to be fierce.”
The key to knowing whether/where to go abroad lies in this equation: Is the opportunity for work greater than the loss incurred from high competition? Low fees? General disorder, danger, or corruption?
A firm must also be aware that going to a less developed market, where demand is high, doesn’t necessarily translate into profit either. Richard Tomlinson, managing parter at SOM, notes that even though clients are heading to Indonesia and South America, and his firm is following, “The US and China are [still] dominant for us in terms of fee.”
To help you navigate these tricky waters, we’ve condensed Denise Chavin’s spotlight, which also appeared in The WA100, of 6 countries where “demand for architects’ services still outstrips supply” into an infographic. Although Chavin conspicuously omits South America (according to Phil Beinhaker, IBI chief executive, “a huge market [...] significantly under-built and not as crowded as Asia”), these graphics will help you decide if any of these countries are right for your firm.
Remember that, no matter the country, Building Design’s report often emphasizes that partnering with a local firm, who knows how to navigate the bureaucracy/laws/culture, is often the best course of action.
And, in case you missed it, check out our full coverage on the WA 100: "The 100 Largest Architecture Firms" ; "The Top 5 Earners of 2012 (And How They Did It)" ; "The 5 Best Architectural Partners of 2012"; and, our critique of the ranking, "The World's Largest Architecture Firms Have Been Ranked...But Does It Matter?"