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Global Practice

MICHAEL PERCIALI. Globalization is driven by product manufacturers and we architects are pushed into this by today’s trends in economic developmentThe

Globalization is driven by product manufacturers and we architects are pushed into this by today’s trends in economic development.

Why practice globally?

Because markets are global and markets drive development.

Because of realities of the world today, such as:

  • The population density of the planet – it is expected to reach 11 billion inhabitants by the year 2050, half of whom are predicted to live in Asian countries.
  •  Globalization of the world economies – which is already happening
  •  Urbanization at an unprecedented scale – it is expected that 95% of the world population will live in cities. It is also expected for Asian population to lead this trend.

As a result of the above conditions, at international scale, the rate buildings and infrastructures are being built or needed to be built is higher than ever.

The map above shows percentage of international practice active in global markets: 4.8% in Eastern Europe, 22 % and over in China and Middle East and the trend will expand. Countries / regions with the highest demand for international expertise: East Africa, China, Kazakhstan, Australia, Saudi Arabia, Arab Emirates, Pakistan, India, Brazil, Turkey.

What firms are leading in this trend? – see the chart below

Larger firms (55 + employees) already see their international practice volume exceeding domestic practice volume.

What is the recruiter in these firms looking to hire?

Persons under 40 years of age. Team leader qualities, experienced designers, good communicators with customers and stakeholders, project management skills, positive attitude.


Type of teams you will be working in, should you be selected:

Multinational design teams which may have architecture, civil / structural services from one country, mechanical, electrical, fire protection from another country, process engineering from another country.

What knowledge helps you the most?

−− Curiosity, which is part of being an architect

−− Project Management (PM) skills to lead a multicultural project team

−− Would be beneficial if some of the required skills for oversea practice are offered in graduate schools. I hear that from practicing architects and engineers. Even some Romanian practitioners working in US are telling me the same.


Types of projects in demand overseas:

Large and complex international projects in: healthcare, commercial office buildings, high performance projects, master-plans, cultural and expo centers, science and technology universities, semiconductor fabrication plants, high rise towers.


Overseas projects back benefits:

−− Give you exposure

−− Opportunities to travel and see the world

−− Fees are higher when doing an overseas assignment. US based architects did /do lots of international projects – I see that being possible for Romanian professionals as well.



−− Cultural and political

−− Communication – language barriers. Preferable is to use one language – English – for international practices.

−− Design and follow‑up remotely, due to lack of opportunities to be at the project location for a longer time.

−− Convincing and reassuring customers of your capabilities to carry on till the end with good results.

−− Local labor and local office Joint Venture laws could become barriers.


Considerations to look at:

−− Climate, seismic zones, winds, floods etc.

−− Expect work to be done under severe weather conditions, which may be unfamiliar with your experience.

−− Impact of Time Zones, workweek, holidays

−− Although the world is connected like never before, difficulties in air traffic commute exist.

−− Unreliable and uncomfortable local traffic

−− Internet not working as you would expect

−− Availability and quality of basic local utilities

−− Currency exchange volatility

−− Cultural habits that may affect your project schedule.

−− Expectations on the approach to business life such as the traditional role of women in business: you can find women in roles such as PM on the developer / builder side / client side.

−− Appropriate attire and behavior during business and off business hours

−− Different approaches to contracts

−− Legal system may be different from the one you are familiar with

−− Local business regulations in terms of: practicing law, licensing, taxation, human resource policies, professional practice, insurance, codes and permits etc. Expect them to be different from what you know.

−− Fast changing regulatory requirements – both from local Authority Having Jurisdiction (AHJ) and from Customers

−− Rigorous approval process – it takes time

−− Technology transfer and how you communicate it

−− Conflicting between Codes and Standards (C&S) may exist and must be solved.


Recommended for you to do is to:

−− Embrace local culture and local habits

−− Identify early on the job stakeholders, and work with them, such as: owners, designers, builders, municipalities, fire departments, users, public. Engage fire dept. early on and include them in the «decision making» group.

−− Organize and participate in Training and Education sessions and include: life safety designers, operation, fire staff, management, users.

−− Follow a comprehensive integration program (i.e.: design – review – implement)

−− Most countries will demand project execution done locally for multiple reasons, therefore be prepared for collaboration with local firms and expect changes in your design, when moving from concept to execution.

−− Assume you will not be able to revisit your project after completed; multiple reasons make that difficult, such as confidentiality, security and distance.


Standard of care

What is and what is not acceptable in the local country and how to balance with your standard of care practice? Check Copyright and trademark regulation in the local country.

Construction phase:

−− If involved in Contract Administrations (CA) – expect to find issues very different from what you are familiar with.

−− Best is to design to local technical capabilities and materials availabilities.

−− May or may not be able to use familiar contract documents for design, execution, consulting, etc.


Type of teams you will be working in, should you be selected:

Multinational design teams which may have architecture, civil / structural services from one country, mechanical, electrical, fire protection from another country, process engineering from another country.

US based codes and standards (C&S) in international design

Codes Globalization is driven by Product Manufacturers, product safety performance standards, and countries’ local governments supporting this effort by adopting / developing standards such as ISO, UL. Building codes adoption / development is also driven by production standard requirements found in European Normative (EN) and International Codes Council (ICC) codes. For example, US based codes evolved to accommodate unusual hazardous operations (bio-pharma, semi-conductors, etc.) because these manufacturers and local authority having jurisdiction (AHJ) are interested in safety operation, safety for the public and for the first responders to an emergency call. This aspect of code does not exist in most countries. If some local fire protection standards exist, they are not translated in English language. In most cases the A&E firm needs to negotiate upfront the use of the International Building Code (IBC) and National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) regulation, along with following some local requirements which have a cultural / political meaning in the host country. Applicability of International Codes and Standards (C&S) is subject to local politics and traditions. More economic developed countries are more likely to have their own C&S and vice‑versa, less economic developed countries are welcoming International technologies and international C&S. When multiple international and local C&S are active on a project, the best practice will prevail. For example, some countries approach to site infrastructure ends at the property line; others will extend the scope to the existing utilities ties in the area.

Codes considerations:

−− Sustainability standards do not exist, but are demanded by users to be followed

−− Accessibility standards do not exist, but they are introduced by global practicing architects as part of the standard of care – which standard is exported to other countries via projects

−− Must have a mutual consensus with the customer of what codes are to be used on the job

−− There is an international work-trend to adopt IBC internationally

−− There are already global accepted standards such as ISO and UL

−− UL testing is growing and becoming globally recognized


Currently used codes:

−− EN (European Normative) codes

−− IBC and NFPA Life Safety codes are already used in some countries (i.e. Dubai)

−− Other local codes are based on IBC translated locally (i.e. Saudi Arabia, India)

−− NFPA 13 (Standard for the Installation of Sprinkler Systems) and 72 (Fire Alarm and Signaling Code) are welcome to be used in other countries

−− Local Codes Authorities are willing to use IBC as long as you also meet local country codes

−− C&S at an international scale are driven by technology of producing products whose components are hazardous and very hazardous

−− Semiconductors industry is hazardous and very hazardous and local countries do not have regulation to be followed for this industry

−− US codes are currently the best resources for projects involving hazardous materials (hazmat) and processes

−− C&S experiences a slow introduction in the international market due to local traditions’ resistance.

−− China is using IBC as a support document along with strong national construction standards

−− Chinese codes do not address all issues. When standards are missing, opportunities exist for an US based C&S insertion.

−− Use international standards when / where local requirements are not adequate or missing

−− For the Fire Protection, performance based design is what is expected to be followed.


Workflow recommended:

−− Include Code officials in your design team.

−− Develop a code matrix indicating at the top all codes intended to be used, and at the left list rows with items from the building design that are subject to regulations – most  stringent will prevail.

−− Prepare a Life Safety operational / evacuation plan even if it is not included in the RFP.


Current state of Codes around the Globe:

−− IBC covers 80% of territories while 20% is covered by Local codes based on traditions and cultures.

−− It is assumed that it will always be a combination of International and Local C&S in global practice.

A few work examples of international projects I was involved with:

BASF Pharmaceuticals, Jayuya Puerto Rico – 20,000 square foot solid dosages manufacturing facility and support. BYK – Altana Pharmaceutical, Jaguariuna, Sao Paulo, Brazil – OSD and Liquids manufacturing grass root facility, 2,500 sqm, including manufacturing, research, administration and support buildings.

Laboratorios Silanes, Toluca, Mexico DF – OSD and Liquids manufacturing Facility and support. Ronsen BioPharma, Chengdu, China – vaccine and plasma products facility. Caterpillar Inc., Bangalore, India – office expansion.

*Read this article online with full illustrations and external reference links, on Arhitext website: www.arhitext.com, in the students section. In addition, in the online version of the article, you will also find a short bio of the author, who is an invited professor at «Ion Mincu» University of Architecture and Urbanism in Bucharest.

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