Oculus - Spring 2012 - (Page 28)
Small Firm Workplace: The Whole Wide World
For small ﬁrms, working overseas may be the best way to land projects and avoid “New York City myopia”
BY WEN DY O RDEMA N N , LEED A P
©WORK Architecture Company
raving language barriers, mixed time zones, opaque legal systems, and baffling bureaucracies, some small architectural firms are working outside American borders with success. Perhaps chief among the rewards is a busy staff and a steady cash flow. Other advantages include opportunities to tackle interesting projects not available to small firms in the U.S., exploration of vernacular design, and the excitement and stimulation that come with travel and exposure to different cultures. And today, working overseas is easier than ever thanks to Skype, frequent flyer miles, an increasingly international workforce, and the Internet. It also means getting commissions can be more difficult, however, because everybody can compete for everything everywhere. International settings often mean bigger projects than those found in New York City. The 18-person WORK Architecture Company (WORKac) is restoring and redeveloping the 19-acre New Holland Island in the heart of St. Petersburg, Russia – the result of winning a competition. Says WORKac Principal Dan Wood, AIA, LEED AP, “Meeting people from other places keeps us aware that we are part of international culture.” And, perhaps equally important, it helps his team avoid what he calls “New York City myopia” – that sense that if it doesn’t happen here, it doesn’t matter. In Shenzhen, a city in Southern China’s Guangdong Province, OBRA Architects is redesigning a one-kilometer stretch of a city street – addressing traffic problems, putting in subway lines, and increasing awareness of ecological considerations. “Our work is bigger overseas,” says OBRA Principal Pablo Castro, AIA, whose firm has a staff of 14. “It includes opportunities for master plans and new forms of public space.” Castro loves the dynamism of the Chinese culture and economy. “There’s a conscious sense that development lags the West, and they are endeavoring to catch up,” he says. “They are pragmatic people looking for new ideas that they can rethink and adapt to their culture.” OBRA is taking its commitment a step further: it is about to open an office in Beijing.
In western Africa’s Senegal, where Fred Schwartz, FAIA, FAAR, principal at the 15-person Frederic Schwartz Architects, is creating housing for “the poorest of poor,” more than 3,000 people came to the groundbreaking. “That felt great,” he says. “Can you imagine anything like that happening here?”
(opposite page right) PROJECT: Sanhe Yanjiao YJ2011 Elementary School, Beijing CLIENT: Xiaohua Huang, Beijing Xishan Industrial Investment Co. ARCHITECT: OBRA Architects
China Architecture Design & Research Group Part of a large new residential development, the 370,000-square-foot school for 1,800 children will begin construction this summer.
The hardest step may be getting that first commission. For many firms, the best way to land a project is through competitions. “They create a more level playing field. It’s a better selection system than the U.S. interview process,” Schwartz says. “You won’t do an airport in the U.S. unless you’ve done an airport before. So how do you do your first airport if no one’s giving you a chance?” Schwartz’s overseas work began when he teamed with Venturi, Scott Brown and Associates to win a French competition in the 1990s. He has since done projects in Europe, Africa, and Asia. Castro’s first foray overseas was also the result of a competition. ORDOS 100 was an attempt to commission 100 architects to design 100 villas for Inner Mongolia. While that project is at a standstill, he met plenty of people in the process who invited him to come back to do other work. “It all just started to happen on its own,” Castro says, “though I admit that when we go over there, it’s ‘all P.R. all the time.’”
(below) New Holland Island, St. Petersburg, Russia ARCHITECT: WORK Architecture Company
This “city within the city” is a renovation and new construction project that will feature performing arts, education, and retail spaces, as well as parks and gardens, on a 19-acre island.
Oculus Spring 2012
Small Firms Doing Big Things
Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Oculus - Spring 2012
Letter from the President: Invitation to the Future
A Word from the Editor - Small is the New Big
Center for Achitecture - Center Highlights
Museum Mile Makeover
Opener: Small, Agile Firms Succeed in Lean Times
Public Projects, Small Firms, Targeted Tactics
Small Firm Workplace: The Whole Wide World
Small Size, Big Thinking
Launch Pad to Success
The Spirit of Cities: Why the Identity of a City Matters in a Global Age
Last Words - Smaller than a Breadbox
Index to Advertisers
Oculus - Spring 2012
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