Harbouring mainland designs
Written by Tim Metcalfe
Firmly established in Beijing, Aedas has plans to expand further
One of Hong Kong's biggest architectural firms, Aedas, has plans for rapid expansion in mainland China.
Just six years after opening its first office in Beijing, the firm has already extended to Shanghai, Chengdu and Shenzhen, with a workforce of nearly 100 professionals there. But even more architects will be deployed across the border in the near future.
'We are looking to open our sixth office in China soon,' said Greater China managing director Kyran Sze.
Aedas first ventured into China in the early 1980s with small-scale, one-off projects in Hainan and Zhuhai.
But opportunities 'took off in a big way' in the late 1990s as Hong Kong investors and developers turned their attention to the mainland.
'Property development opportunities were limited in Hong Kong,' explained Mr Sze.
'Many of them were not quite comfortable looking too far afield, so China was a natural next step.'
Leading the way were Hong Kong's main property players such as Henderson Land, Wharf, Kerry Properties and Sino Land.
'Behind them came the second tier, but there has also been a third tier of investors with traditional businesses outside property, such as manufacturing, and even international investment funds,' he said.
'They had never been involved in property before, but believed the returns looked promising.'
Where Hong Kong developers money migrated, Hong Kong's architects and engineers followed closely behind.
'When the developers moved their battlefield into China, they wanted to work with firms they knew from Hong Kong, and they wanted us working with them from start to finish, not on a 'hit-and-run' basis, so we decided to open offices,' said Mr Sze.
'They were more confident with their investments that way, especially as we had a reputation for delivering large-scale projects properly, on time and in budget outside our home turf.'
Aedas firmly established itself 'on the map' in Beijing, with the landmark Fortune Plaza in the centre of the new central business district between the Jingguang Centre and China World Hotel.
He said the award-winning model had since been copied all over China.
Along with a catalogue of grade-A offices and high-end residential developments, Aedas is also working on the new Peninsula Shanghai Hotel at the northern end of the Bund, the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Huizhou, the R&F Centre in Guangzhou, the North Star commercial and retail development near Beijing's future Olympics site, and the International Cruise City Development in Xiamen, complete with cruise terminal, hotels, residential and commercial buildings, exhibition centre, civic centre and waterfront parks and canals.
Aedas is constantly on the lookout to recruit talent to service the booming China market.
'We see growth being quite substantial and are recruiting from Hong Kong to the United States, Australia and Britain,' said Mr Sze.
'We are always keen to employ more quality staff, and are especially on the lookout for senior architects of associate level, with eight to 12 years' experience. They are the guys who are the most mobile, and it's a lot easier to work in China these days.'
Aedas is also actively recruiting mainland talent.
'There are hundreds of thousands of architectural graduates trained every year in China, compared with just a few hundred a year in Hong Kong,' he said.
'That is a talent pool we want to tap into, so we are actively getting our name around the leading universities.
'Graduates in China traditionally join a local design institute as government architects. We are now on the scene as an international firm offering better packages and more international exposure. With 27 offices globally, we are an attractive proposition for many who are ambitious to get out into the world.'
Mainland staff already account for around 70 per cent of the firm's workforce on China projects, with the remaining 30 per cent from Hong Kong and 'all over the world, from Singapore and Poland to Germany, France and Spain'.
'This is our real challenge - getting people and persuading them to stay,' said Mr Sze.
'We are putting a lot of effort into making Aedas an attractive place to work.'
With a global workforce of 1,900 and growing fast, the company is on track to become the world's largest architectural firm within the next few years.
'Recruits don't have to worry about the quality of training they will get, along with exposure in different countries. But what we are also stressing are definite career prospects within the firm. People want to see a road ahead. If they don't, they leave,' said Mr Sze.