NY architects look abroad for work

By Lynne Miller | March 18, 2009 07:25PM

Gensler is working on Tameer Towers (left) in Abu Dhabi and Shanghai Tower

With little work to do at home, New York architecture firms are tackling more projects abroad in places like China, Vietnam and the Middle East.

Jobs overseas are helping design companies that have been hit hard by the tanking U.S. economy. Principals at a handful of large, local firms told The Real Deal that they expect fees from international projects to make up a larger share of company revenues this year, compared to 2008. Companies are doing a variety of projects overseas including hospitals, retirement communities, office towers and mixed-use developments. 

At Ehrenkrantz Eckstut & Kuhn Architects, international revenues have grown to 20 percent this year from 6 percent last year, the result of much less work in the states and simultaneous growth overseas, said a design principal at the company, Ming Wu. He added, “There’s very little to do in this country.”

For many years, Perkins Eastman consistently generated 10 percent of its revenue from projects in foreign countries. Last year, the amount climbed to 20 percent, said Bradford Perkins, a principal of the company. This year, Perkins said he expects about a third of his company’s revenue to come from work abroad. The company just started drawing up a master plan for the city of Hanoi, Vietnam and is about to begin plans for a new high-end retirement community in Beijing. 

“There are interesting opportunities in almost every country,” said Perkins, whose firm works in 22 countries. 

Projects abroad represent a growing part of business for the Gensler company. Joe Brancato, a managing principal in Gensler’s New York office, said he anticipates that architecture projects overseas will generate 25 percent of the company’s total revenue in 2009, up from 20 percent last year.

In a few months, the company will open a new office in Abu Dhabi, where work is in progress on the Tameer Towers, a large mixed-use waterfront development. The Shanghai office is also busy. Construction recently started on the Shanghai Tower, which, when completed, will be the tallest building in Asia. The mixed-use development will include office and retail space as well as a hotel.

“We plan to grow in China,” Brancato said.

If Wu of Ehrenkrantz Eckstut has his way, his firm will carve out a larger niche in China, too. Wu subscribes to Chinese news services and, based on what he reads, believes China will emerge from its slowdown sooner than the U.S.

“We have a small office there now,” said Wu, who opened the Shanghai outpost in 2005. “I’d like more people, and more capability on the ground there.”

Ehrenkrantz Eckstut’s An-Ting City Center, a sprawling mixed-use development in Shanghai, will offer a mix of retail and commercial space with housing, a transit center and a high-end hotel complex.

In Bangalore, India, the firm is also working on the Khoday Center, a pedestrian-friendly development which will offer hotels, apartments, offices and shops.

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