Shanghai skyline

Demand for overseas architects booms in China's "open and free climate"

China is emerging as a key destination for international architects, with experienced designers flocking to take up jobs in the country.

China's booming construction scene is fuelling the demand, with Chinese architecture studios keen to hire foreign talent both for domestic projects and for their growing work outside their home nation.

"There are many foreign architects working in China," said Ma Yansong, founder of Beijing studio MAD. "Around half our staff are international architects from probably 20 nations. We get so many applicants from all over the world and half our projects are overseas."

Job ads for positions in China posted on Dezeen Jobs have almost doubled compared to last year, and the country has now overtaken the Netherlands to become the recruitment site's third-biggest market for job ads after the UK and the USA.

Aisling Cowley, head of Dezeen Jobs, said demand for staff was coming both from Chinese firms and from western studios with offices in China.

"Demand has grown strongly this year," Cowley said. "Candidates with international experience and fluent English are particularly prized in China, with knowledge of Mandarin and Cantonese a definite asset."

Chaoyang Plaza, MAD Architects photographed by Khoo Guo Jie
Ma Yansong of MAD, whose recent projects include the mountain-inspired Chaoyang Park Plaza, said half of the architects at his Beijing studio are international

Opportunities in China on Dezeen Jobs currently include positions at local firms NC Design & ArchitectureDaipu Architects and Alt-254, as well as international firms OMA, Aedas and Make.

Yansong said that China was increasingly open to foreign talent and many of his former overseas employees have stayed and started up on their own, he said.

"Some previous MADers have stayed in China and started their own firms. Most of them are young architects and willing to learn and gain experience from massive and challenging practices."

He added: "The architecture scene in China is the most open and free climate compared to many other places. You can find many opportunities. The market is big. Senior foreign architects can bring high-quality building standard to China. Young architects who have been educated at top schools can use their talents here."

Allen Zhu, an architectural recruitment consultant at Archibucks in Shanghai said demand for experienced staff was booming in the country.

"I am super busy this year as the demand keep growing," he said. "The market for designing new buildings has increased a lot this year due to the central government's will to develop China more. This is very different from the situation in 2015 and 2016, when the whole market was down and there was low demand for architectural design."

Zhu said the demand for foreign architects would continue to grow due to a shortage of home-grown talent.

"For overseas staff in China, I think the demand will be stronger since it is even more difficult to recruit capable Chinese architects now in China," he said.

However he cautioned that working visas remained time consuming to secure. "As the working visa policy is very complicated in China now, even if the employer decides to hire one foreign worker, it will take two to three months for the candidate to get a Chinese working visa."

OMA, which recently completed an events centre at a former shipyard in Shanghai, is recruiting international architects at its Hong Kong office

Serena Zhang, HR and recruitment officer at OMA in Rotterdam, said the firm was looking for international architects to join its growing Hong Kong office.

"We are looking for mid-level architects with international experience to join us," she said. "We are looking for candidates with an international profile. For us, the candidate's nationality is not particularly relevant, but experience in the Asian market is preferred."

Overseas-educated Chinese architects are particularly prized, according to Zhang.

"We value someone's academic background and professional experience," she added. "Speaking Mandarin is a bonus, but we are primarily looking for talented and ambitious designers."