'Tear down World Trade Centre before you build it,' said Honolulu architect Charles Lau. It might sound like a bad joke but it revealed how limited opportunities architects had in the US market, said Mr Lau, the founder of architectural firm AM Partners. And it also explains why western architects, including Mr Lau, flew to China in search of opportunities since the 1990s. China is seen as one of the world's largest construction markets, with total gross output at 1.2 trillion yuan in the first half of last year, up 18.4 per cent from the same period in 2004. And the industry is expected to see significant growth, boosted by the real-estate market, the Beijing 2008 Olympics and the Shanghai Expo. 'You will have a lot of opportunities in China,' said Mr Lau, who came to China in 1985. His first job was to design the 600-seat Tang Dynasty Theatre complex with a banquet hall and 160 residential units in Xian. But like many pioneers exploring other industries in China, his first attempt was not successful. 'The market at the time was not ready,' said the architect, who came from Hong Kong and obtained an architecture degree at the University of Hawaii. After the project, Mr Lau stayed away from China for a decade. He then came back for the construction boom. Now he is involved in seven projects in China. The latest completed project was the four-tower luxury residential project Chateau Pinnacle in Shanghai. US investment fund Morgan Stanley Real Estate Fund is on the verge of buying one tower for about 800 million yuan. Apart from the vast market, Mr Lau said architects were happy to work in the country as mainland developers were willing to give free rein to architects, with no budget limits to curb his creativity. 'I had been approached by Hong Kong developers, but we did not come up with any co-operations,' said Mr Lau, hinting that Hong Kong developers were more cost conscious. Mr Lau is one of the thousands of western architects riding on the vast mainland construction wave. According to the Beijing-based Architecture Journal there are more than 120 foreign and joint architecture firms in China. More than 140 of the 200 leading world engineering companies and design consortiums have set up branches in China. Mr Lau expects more foreign firms will join the fray because of the low entry barrier. There is no barrier for overseas architectural firms to open design and consultancy firm in China. But Chinese laws require all foreign design firms to have a local partner. Commenting on mainland architects, Mr Lau said that most were not of a standard to compete with western architects. But he said their standards were improving in terms of creativity and experience and believed they would be exported to other countries in the near future.