US architects learn from Chinese developers

By Lia Zhu | China Daily | Updated: 2017-06-13 06:53

Chinese investment in large mixed-use towers in the United States not only changes the skyline but also helps local architects sharpen their skills.

"One thing we learned from the Chinese developers is how they honed their skills and made themselves more efficient," said Pieter Berger, associate partner of MVE & Partners Inc, an Irvine, California-based architectural design and planning firm.

During the past 15 years, the firm has engaged in two million square meters of development in China.

Berger stressed the China experiences have helped "in a tremendous way", as local developers taught them to come up with strong design concepts, get their points across more clearly and sell their ideas in a timely fashion.

"Schedule is always tight from Chinese developers' standpoint. The schedules are typically very compressed versus how we see with local developers," he said, adding that it's the biggest difference between Chinese and local developers.

Berger has made numerous trips to China and also learnt to use WeChat to communicate with Chinese clients.

"My first trip to China is absolutely an eye-opener," said Berger. "The scale of how buildings are built and communities are developed in China was a moment we realized what we were getting ourselves into, in a very positive way.

"It's all about creating projects of size that have overall impacts with Chinese communities," he added.

Their biggest ongoing project in China is Wuhan First City, a 650,000-square-meter master plan with campus office, residential and retail southeast of downtown Wuhan, capital of Hubei province.

The firm had its first project, a high-rise condo building in Chengdu, Sichuan province more than 10 years ago.

It was reintroduced to the country after a Chinese developer saw one of MVE's office projects in Santa Monica and contacted the firm, which ended up with the relationship that helped tap different clients.

The firm started to see an increase of Chinese clients stateside once they saw the market slowing a bit in their country during the last couple of years, Berger pointed out.

"A sudden influx of projects started springing up in the city (Los Angeles) in a serious way," he said. His firm recently set up an office in downtown Los Angeles to handle the increased business.

"One of the great examples is outside of the window-the Metropolis of Greenland-a lot of money was invested all at once, and the downtown started becoming a mixed-use community," he added.

The architectural firm is engaged in three Chinese-invested projects in California, including Lifan Tower, a 28-story mixed-use tower in downtown Los Angeles as well as a mixed-use, multi-tower project invested in by LT Global in Orange County.

It is also involved in two high-rises with condo units and retail components invested in by BDK Capital in Milpitas, a city in the Bay Area.

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