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Architects Bring Canadian Design To China

Written by Posted On Tuesday, 15 June 2004 00:00

Canadian architects from 15 firms were selected by China Enterprise Co. Ltd., one of the largest developers in Shanghai, to participate in an urban planning competition to design a Canadian-style Sustainable Community in China. The goal is to develop a Master Plan, which will demonstrate sustainability, resource efficiency and a Healthy Housing approach, and will serve as a model for future Chinese community development.

Congratulations go to Ramsay Worden Architects and Phillips Farevaag Smallenberg from British Columbia for winning the contract.

For the typical Chinese consumer, owning a home is less about functionality than it is about prestige. A home is a status symbol and is meant for impressing others. Chinese consumers are incredibly brand-conscious, so a large company with an identifiable brand name is a much safer bet for a Chinese developer hoping to generate a great deal of interest in his project. By comparison, a small Canadian firm that is not easily recognizable represents a significant risk for Chinese developers. Canadian designers and governments are conscious of this attitude and have begun work to build the brand of Canadian designers.

"Celebrating Canadian Design in China," the 2003 directory of Canadian architects active in China, is one step in the right direction. This directory outlines 76 recent projects completed by Canadian architectural firms that range from residential communities to opera houses and airports, including the following:

  • Hotson Bakker Architects from Vancouver, BC, demonstrated how to achieve the delicate balance between development in growing cities and the desire to preserve the natural beauty of the environment in its concept for the master plan of a community in Tianjin, known as "Riverside." They incorporated public space with commercial, retail and residential developments while preserving the natural topography, green space and waterways of the area.

  • Nicolson Tamaki Architects employed similar techniques in its design for the Tai Chi Lin Hai Resort Village in Chongqing. The sloping terrain was incorporated as a central part of the design, with sloping roofs for rainwater harvesting and winding roads to accommodate changes in grade.

  • Ekistics Town Planning Inc. capitalizes on Canada’s "green" image. First Forest is a luxury residential complex that meshes ground-oriented, low-density, traditionally Canadian single-family homes and townhouses with surrounding commercial and public space to give the community a distinctly "North American" feel.

  • Firms Bing Thom and Phillips Farevaag Smallenburg of Vancouver emphasize adaptability. Its award-winning plan for the Yuxi City Centre aimed to rediscover the spirit of Yuxi and to give this spirit expression in the urban form. To achieve this, the firms analyzed the natural setting, the history and culture of Yuxi, upcoming social and economic challenges for the city and the aspirations of local residents in the long term. A pattern of development was established to minimize development on the most productive agricultural land and promote growth around the older parts of the city to enhance their special character.

Last September, the Canadian Ambassador to China, Joseph Caron, met with a group of twenty Canadian architects, landscape architects and planners who were working in China to discuss the challenges of conducting business in that country. Ambassador Caron's brief overview on recent economic development in China was followed by active exchange with the group that raised a number of issues related to transplanting Canadian construction and real estate to China, including:

  • Green design: Canada has strong capability in Green and Sustainable design but this message must be promoted to potential Chinese clients.

  • Payments: Every firm working in China is faced with the payment issue. Although the situation has improved over the last 10 years and design firms do get paid, the problem is payment delays. This interruption of cash flow is a big challenge to Canadian firms which are usually small.

  • Market Promotion: The design sector of Canada continues to be under promoted in China and it generally receives little attention from government agencies. Although design firms contribute significantly to the Canadian economy, the firms are many, small and diverse, and therefore simply hard to organize. Since government programs usually deal with groups, rather than individuals, firms must team up to receive government help in promotion.

The 2003 CMHC International directory successfully addressed promotion and marketing issues. Due to the Chinese interest generated by the directory, a new edition, which will include new planners, architects, landscape architects and interior designers, as well as those currently active in China, is in production.

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