SmithGroupJJR, the oldest architecture and engineering firm in the US, has gone global with the opening of its first international office in Shanghai, China.

The new office will be the 160-year-old architecture firm’s 10th office, the other nine of which are all based in the United States. SmithGroupJJR will bring its design expertise to China to address to the country’s largest growth markets, research and development, healthcare, continuing care/retirement communities and higher education.

Russ Skyes

SmithGroupJJR’s Russ Skyes

Russ Skyes, a 28-year veteran of SmithGroupJJR, will lead the China operations and split his time between Shanghai and the firm’s Detroit office.

SmithGroupJJR is currently working on an array of projects for Chinese clients and US clients who are expanding their operations in China. In Changchun, the firm was approached by First Automative Works to develop a 468,000 square metre automotive research and development centre for the large manufacturer.

Slated for completion in 2015, the First Automative Works building’s design has been heavily influenced by Chinese traditions with the use of terracotta (a reference to the entombed Terracotta Army), while the site’s layout reflects the country’s ancient approach of balancing energy flow to “assure health and good fortune for its users,” the company explained.

First Automative Works

First Automative Works

“Many of our China-based clients, like First Automative Works, travelled to the U.S and sought us out for our specialised design expertise,” Sykes said. “Now, with the new office, our clients in Shanghai have direct access to our services. Simultaneously, they benefit from the alliances we’ve established and our understanding of how to work in China,” he added.

SmithGroupJJR president and CEO Carl Roehling also believes the growing healthcare market will support the firm’s success.

“Clients are requesting the level of design expertise we possess,” he said. “For the growing healthcare market in China, there is a need for firms that excel in healthcare design and the advanced technology used in hospitals. We have that expertise.”

The 2013 edition of World Architecture 100  ranked SmithGroupJJR as the tenth-largest healthcare design firm in the world. The firm used its healthcare architecture experience on projects such as the holistic Shuguang Hospital for Shanghai Traditional Chinese University. Completed in 2005, the health centre was the first of its kind in China combining traditional Chinese and Western medicine research and treatment.

Shuguang Hospital

Shuguang Hospital

In the continuing care/retirement community design space, SmithGroupJJR is set to start construction shortly on a 21-storey project entitled ZhongShan Park for the Vcanland Senior Living Group.

US-based GreenbergFarrow architectural firm from Atlanta, Georgia has also tapped into the Chinese market. Earlier this year, the firm – which specialises in retail design – also spread its wings in Shanghai to respond to the country’s rapid urban development.

US China

US firms tap into China’s architectural growth

“I think it’s a place we have to be to carry GreenbergFarrow forward to the next life cycle phase of the firm,” said Rodney Abney, Jr, a principal at GreenbergFarrow and head of the firm’s Shanghai office. “There’s quite a lot of opportunity, in spite of the challenges that come with working in a different market.”