There are 14 practices in the AJ100 that have 100 or more architects working overseas
Of these, the largest two are HOK and Gensler, both US practices with worldwide representations. The largest markets are still Europe and the Middle East, but canny practices are looking at other areas, too: sub-Saharan Africa, Central and South America, Russia and Eastern European countries.
A few years ago, practices with ambitions identified the need for an overseas presence, because this offered the best opportunity for expansion, and it was believed that the ups and downs across the world would balance each other out. What they did not envisage - and so did not prepare for - was global recession. After all, who did?
Nevertheless, although every country has taken a hit, having a strong overseas presence has provided some insulation against the buffeting the profession has endured in the UK - if only because different countries seem to be working on slightly different cycles.
For example, Archial Group, which saw 17 per cent of its total revenue come from overseas work in 2009, is experiencing a dramatic uplift. Its current order book shows international revenue making a third of the total. Chief executive Chris Littlemore said, ‘China, Malaysia and Asia in general have large growth in GDP. We are looking at offices and other large projects [there].’ The practice is also eyeing up ‘significant schemes’ in India, and one of its divisions, Alsop Sparch, is working in Toronto.
‘The largest markets are still Europe and the Middle East, but canny practices are looking at other areas’
Practices like Aedas and RMJM are also rapidly turning into truly international practices, following the pattern of HOK and Gensler. Indeed, Peter Morrison believes that his practice, RMJM, is more truly international. The Americans tend to be closely tied to the mothership, with numerous but relatively small offices outside the US. In contrast, Morrison no longer sees his business as being based in Edinburgh. ‘Everybody is working with other teams around the world,’ he says. ‘Our headquarters is where I am based at any time.’
This is a model of a practice that should make the promoters of conference calls, and airlines, very happy. If only it weren’t for those pesky volcanoes.