china run-construction drawing or conceptual design-which sounds slightly better?


Nooooooo, it will be VERY hard to come back!--a well to do architect friend shook his head on hearing my plan Z running for China In pursuit of uninterrupted working experience. Well my options are very limited right now in North America though. Probably only big offices with large scale mixed use project would maybe bother looking at my résumé with my urban design intensive portfolio. So maybe running ASAP with the intention of being able to come back wise.

Which sounds like better experience to have there? Construction drawing or conceptual design? Private international office or government design institute? Say if I do have my choice of jobs. Hope this will be a helpful thread for all of us considering a china rush.

May 7, 13 12:38 pm

wow, a bit late to the party.  i wouldn't pack your bags just yet.

May 7, 13 1:06 pm

Hi there, I'm curious why he said it was very hard to come back? Is it because firms in the US don't respect the experience gained in China? Or because the skills gained while working in China don't really apply to the workforce back in the US? I ask because I'm considering a job there as well, but don't want to shoot myself in the foot...

Jul 20, 13 4:11 am

If you decide to go, try hard to find a western firm that keeps its drawings under their control through DD. You should ask them this very specific question during the interview. If you don't speak chinese you wont be handling CDs even at a large institute so don't even think about that (CDs here are very different, and low quality, compared to the west, so maybe it doesn't matter much anyways). If you work for a chinese firm you will be doing concept design all the time which can give you a lot of pure design practice* but no construction experience, even if your building gets built.

My impression is that when/if you return to the west, your experience will be pretty much discounted unless you have real buildings completed and/or worked for a corporate firm with name recognition in the US**. That doesn't mean you shouldn't do it though. If you move to another country, you should do it because you want to live in another country, not because its a good career move. I thought I would just hang out here for a short time, but as US architecture trends more and more towards complete banality every year, and as architectural wages continue to improve in china, Im starting to think of what it means to live here long term... Even if China crashes*** they will still be a more dominant market than the US for at least a decade or two as people continue to move to the cities, and the US puts out more and more graduates every year, and I find it hard to believe that the market is ever going to be able to accommodate them all.

*its funny, this is actually very valuable for your own personal development, but most western firms dont give a shit about it since its just some 40-60 year old principal/senior architect who is going to sketch out the design on trace paper half the time anyways. Your pure design ability is much more respected in asia than in the west, its actually refreshing.

**another way to expedite your move back to the US is to learn chinese, which will take you a few (or many) years but put you in a very sweet position when you go back to the west. Most people do not do this.

***keep in mind most large corporate offices these days also derive larger and larger percentages of their income from asian projects, so if China goes down, staying in the US might not actually save you.

Jul 20, 13 7:35 am

Very good information to hear, thank you Given.  I follow you for most of the part, but want to ask why learning Chinese will help the transition back to the west.  Do you think that it will put one in a better position simply because its a marketable attribute on the resume, or do a lot of companies hiring based specifically on this?  I have lived over there for 2 years (before my arch education) and can get around on my mandarin, but it hasn't seemed to help at all in the workforce.  Perhaps coupled with work experience it will be a formidable skill set to have....

Jul 21, 13 2:46 am

You're running from the wrong thing.

Jul 21, 13 11:01 pm

very cryptic Miles, please explain

Jul 22, 13 12:43 am

Should be running from architecture. 

Jul 22, 13 9:45 am

Its funny that you assume you can just go to China and "get a job" - the economy is cooling off pretty rapidly, and the job market is much more competitive than it was 2-3 years ago. Getting a good architecture job in China is still easier than the US, but they don't just hand out offers at the airport like they used to. 

You'll face competition from bilingual US-educated Chinese and Taiwanese who are your equal or better in terms of basic technical skills and 'design thinking' - but who also know the local language and culture, building codes, etc.... I wouldn't be surprised if foreign-educated locals start commanding/demanding higher salaries than economic-refugee expats - and for good reason!

Jul 22, 13 12:17 pm

Given's advice is good. Do keep in mind that the cultural attitudes toward work are very different in China than in the USA. China works on a 24/7 schedule, and you should not expect to be working 40-hour, 9-to-5 western hours if you go there for work. When I'm working out of our Chinese offices, even as a senior designer, I'm usually putting in 12-14 hours a day and working weekends. 60-hour weeks are baseline, and 80-hour weeks not unusual. The team members are working more than that. This is considered pretty normal there as far as I've seen. So, if you make this jump, be prepared for that.

There are also substantial legal issues involved with working full-time in China. Your employer will control your visa, so it can be hard to change jobs there. If you're being paid in RMB, you may also have to pay duties on any money you've saved when you try to take it out of China. If you're really considering this, make sure you do your due diligence.

Jul 22, 13 12:19 pm

Thanks gwharton, good applicable information.  I'm impressed by the constructive input by some of you with solid experience over there.  Do you mind if I ask whether your at an international firm or a Chinese based firm?  I had some offers from Chinese based firms, and although they said they keep a 40 hour workweek and don't expect alot of overtime, I suspect there would be plenty of peer-pressure to work a lot of unpaid overtime.  The RMB duties I've heard about, probably a tad more than the taxes here I'm guessing, I'll look into it.

Miles, I see your point, good stuff, keep up the good work

Evan, I find it funny that your post was based on the assumption that I didn't already have a job offer,  which is the reason I re-initiated this thread; to dig into the pros and cons of working in China and the implications it could have on continuing a career in the US afterwards.  If I didn't have a decent offer, I may consider the territorial undertones of your post a challenge, since I am definitely not just expecting a job to fall into my lap.  I don't know how it was before, but I do know there are plenty of current job opportunities, and just like here you need to have networking and self-presentation skills to win one.  Long term market and employment trends are interesting to look at however. I think that the all too prevalent western-favoritism , as unfair as it may be, is and will be lending westerners an upper hand for at least the next decade in terms of salary, even if the competition is educated here in the west.  I'm intimately familiar with the working conditions of my generational counterparts from china in and out of the architecture office, and I agree that the situation will gradually change for their benefit, higher salary, better hours, etc., but in the meantime I've seen plenty of semi-overt discrimination towards employees of Chinese decent.  Perhaps all the more reason to jump in with both feet while the chance remains, as bad as that may sound.

So I suppose I'd like to ask you of your opinion Evan: do you think that pure design experience, or even cd/project  experience with a chinese firm holds any water back in the states?   Or would it only be considered valuable experience if undertaken with a larger international firm?

I wonder if many Americans have put forth an effort to understand the local building codes in China, draft cd's for local projects or work on construction management areas.  If anyone has broken into this role, as opposed to design lead, it would be EXTREMELY interesting to hear from them.

Jul 23, 13 2:23 am

swandere: no concrete evidence of my hypothesis, except that when my friends and I graduated right into the beginning of the great recession, the only one who kept getting call backs was my asian friend because they thought she spoke chinese... I think that a lot of corporate firms and even small firms on the west coast want chinese speakers to chase china work or to talk to the local design firms easier. Even if a big firm has a china office, they still do a lot of international work in the home countries I think.

Even just for anyone else reading this, I would second what Evan said about the market being tougher now. Every young architect here with a moderately wealthy family goes and studies at US Ivies and comes back with dual fluency and a full technical skillset and a US degree. I still think that talent matters here much more than in the US during the hiring process though. If have the talent, your language ability doesn't matter. So much work goes through these offices every year that firms need people they can rely on. I would say that the bigger issue than that nowadays is work visa issues. Most firms will try and offer international workers a business visa rather than a work visa, and china has been cracking down hard on these lately. One of my friends got denied entry back into china with one of these when they suspected he was working on it (he had like 4 in his passport). We had to ship all of his stuff to hong kong...

I work less in China than in the US so I must be 'lucky' except for the fact that my job sucks.

Jul 23, 13 9:21 am

bricks: I work for a US firm with offices all over the world. I'm based in Seattle, but have worked out of our Beijing and Shanghai offices quite a bit over the last two years.

Jul 23, 13 12:15 pm

well it sounds like it could be an exciting transition in my life, despite any hurdles or difficulties that may come up, and I'm thinking that if I don't live and work abroad now, the chances of me doing it later will be pretty small just because of settling down into a cozy position or establishing my roots.  Plus I've been meaning to push my mandarin to a working level, so perhaps a year could do it for me. At least now I can proceed with a better understanding of the risks.  In a way, the degree grants a certain degree of geographical freedom, and coupled with a good portfolio and a good amount of due diligence, I could see it taking me to a few other places as well before trading this in for a more established, and probably better paid job.

Jul 24, 13 2:05 am

very useful information. thanks a lot for this.




Jul 24, 13 6:04 am

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