With the downturn of the U.S. economy, many
architecture firms started to look abroad. They focused on the
rising architectural hot spots in the Middle East and Asia. For
some firms, the foray into the international market was recent.
Raymond Pan, AIA, LEED AP, is design principal and director of
Asia at HMC Architects, Ontario, Calif., and says, "HMC is new to
the international platform; we started out five years ago building
schools in the Middle East." Later, HMC beat 50 firms from 14
countries to design The First People's Hospital in the Shunde
District of Foshan City, Quangdong Province, People's Republic of
China. The hospital was acknowledged as a recipient of the 2011 AIA
Healthcare Design Awards.
Other architects entered the international market because
existing clients started working internationally. "We go where our
clients ask us to be," notes Lori Top, AIA, LEED AP, associate and
commercial section manager with Burns & McDonnell, Kansas City,
Mo. Sometimes one relationship leads to years of international
work. Top is currently working on several projects in Doha, Qatar,
and she notes, "One commercial architecture project led to us
working for the last seven years with the same developer of that
Some firms, though, entered the international market early in
the firm's history. "We entered the international field in 1956,
[when] the father of the company, Max Stanley, was interested in
West Africa," says Rich Stump, AIA, LEED AP BD+C, vice president
and international federal marketing leader with Muscatine,
Iowa-based Stanley Consultants Inc. "We set up a Liberia office and
obtained a design commission for the Executive Mansion for the
President of Liberia." Stanley has worked in 104 countries and
maintains 11 international offices.
The International Design Process
According to Top, the international design process consists of
three steps: 1. Validate the design material 2. Evaluate
jurisdiction and code requirements 3. Consider the region in which
you are working
About validating the design material, Top says: "Extensive
research goes into looking at a design material. In the case of
Doha, we have challenges of availability as only a select number of
materials are made within Doha itself. As a result, Doha ends up
importing a number of products so we have to vet manufacturers and
look at which importers are bringing materials in."
Finding the right materials and making sure those materials are
available can be a challenge depending on the project's location.
"In Guam and Micronesia," notes Stump, "there are ships that bring
in materials only a couple times a week or month." As a result,
metal products may not be chosen for certain design elements
because of a lack of availability within the region.
Some firms will not use certain materials unless they meet
specific standards. In the case of Stanley Consultants, the firm
has a design principle policy to use materials that have been on
the market for at least five to seven years. Therefore, the firm
has frequently used metal panels from Moon Township, Pa.-based
However, in large manufacturing countries such as China, Pan
notes metal is an ideal product to specify because it is locally
available and contributes to sustainable design
The second step in the design process is to look at jurisdiction
and code requirements, which vary greatly from country to country.
"Code requirements in Europe, [specifically Italy], pose challenges
because building codes are based on local requirements," says
Stump. "We've found it's very important and often helpful to get a
local consultant to help you understand local codes. Local
partnerships cannot be overstated."
The third step-considering the region in which you are
working-continues throughout the design process. The region and the
purpose of the building have a big part in the building's
aesthetics. Stump notes that in a population-dense coastal area,
such as Hawaii, the preferred metal products of choice are
pre-engineered metal buildings. Coastal climates impact the type of
metal or whether or not metal will even be used. "In the U.S., we
use an aluminum clip for metal panels," says Top. "But in high
saline air, aluminum deteriorates over time, so we might use
stainless steel. Depending on the material selection, we may also
use different coating processes such as fluropolymer over anodotic
The Question of Skilled Labor
"Besides finding materials, finding skilled labor is also a big
factor in the success of a project," notes Debashis Sarkar, AIA,
LEED AP BD+C, chief architect, Stanley Consultants. Skilled labor
factored into and proved a challenge during Sarkar's work in
Djibouti. While materials and imports can be a challenge there, the
labor force is a bigger one because Djibouti does not have a ready
source of skilled labor.
Finding skilled labor also proved a challenge for Top's work in
Doha. "Qatar has an unskilled labor force, and we're designing to a
high set of standards." The labor force in Qatar has evolved
recently, though. Top says: "We used to use concrete blocks for
interior partition wall construction and detailing in order to
respond to the accepted building practices and available materials.
Over time our detailing has evolved to include the use of metal
studs as the level of skill in the work force and material quality/
For firms who serve as the design architect rather than project
architect, labor becomes less of an immediate concern. Pan
explains: "For the Shunde project, we were not involved on the
building portion. We specify our design through performance specs,
and a local architecture firm serves as the project architect."
The movement for sustainable buildings continues to grow and has
as much influence internationally as it does in the U.S. Firms
working internationally learn how to make adjustments based on
local considerations. Top's work in Doha meets requirements of LEED
Silver, Gold or Platinum. "How it's approached is modifying [the
design process and materials] so certain credits can be maximized,"
she says. "We can reach recycled content credits with steel, but we
don't approach credits such as energy modeling the same way."
"In Djibouti, credits like local materials may not be
achievable, but some credits like solar are available," notes
Sarkar. "We should know from day one whether sustainability is
achievable or not."
Some projects are trendsetters for international sustainability
programs. "Shunde is the pilot project for China LEED health care
systems," says Pan.
Points of Pride
Different firms working internationally take pride in different
aspects of design in specific projects.
For HMC and Pan, the First People's Hospital is a point of pride
due to its sheer size, as well as the project's use of local
materials. "The hospital is more than 2 million square feet with
2,000 beds, which is four times more than the 500 beds found at
regular U.S. hospitals," notes Pan. "You don't usually see
hospitals with more than 1,000 beds."
In addition to the sheer size of the project, Pan is proud of
how the local environment is represented in the design. "The
building uses aluminum metal panels manufactured locally," explains
Pan. "The design also engages terra cotta, something Shunde is
famous for the past 2,000 years." These local features are
critical, as Pan says, "The [local features] allow us to interact
more with the local culture."
Burns & McDonnell's point of pride is the
145,000-square-foot General Electric Advanced Technology and
Research Center in Doha. The building is located in Qatar's Science
and Technology Park. The firm takes pride in the fact that the
building focuses on merging Qatari culture with the scientific
purpose of the building. The design features a pearl-shaped
structure that holds an auditorium. The pearl shape reflects
Qatar's history of pearl diving. MERO Structures Inc., Atlanta,
supplied a stainless steel canopy that reflects the desert region's
heat. Meanwhile, the exterior structure features 581,270 square
feet of smooth metal wall panels from 3A Composites USA Inc.,
Stanley Consultants' Sarkar and Stump each have projects that
have been points of pride in their careers.
"In 2001, the first project I worked on was an air force base
with a total of 95 buildings," says Sarkar. He is unable to
disclose the location due to legal reasons. "It was fascinating
designing the entire base, something I personally enjoyed.
Designwise, the project took over two years."
In Stump's case, being able to help another country's growth is
important. "Our company has the opportunity to be involved all over
the world- from Ecuador to the Middle East- we have had the
opportunity to design and supervise construction on a wide variety
Stump is particularly proud of the difference his works makes in
developing countries. Stump's focus has been the construction
management of a road network in Micronesia that is in poor
condition. "We are involved in the construction management of a
road network that will improve the lives of the people of Chuuk,
[Micronesia]. The new roads will allow people to safely walk to and
from work, and not slog through lakes of water that form after
rains-the roadway has failed throughout the network. When we finish
our work and the contractor completes the road, we will have
contributed to something that makes their lives easier. It will be
a game changer."
The future looks bright for international projects. The amount
of new construction abroad is increasing, and everyone is entering
the fray. Meanwhile, the use of metal in international design
depends primarily on the location and availability of metal
As for architects using metal, Top summarizes: "I think that the
uniqueness and inherent qualities of metal translate. There are
certain instances where only metal will do."