The architectural profession faces a bright future, especially in China, since generally speaking local practitioners have more experience, and therefore greater skills, than their mainland counterparts.
With China's economy booming, and the rising demand there for better and more efficient residential and commercial buildings, many more challenging projects will need to be designed and built there in the coming years.
However, the property industry is always heavily dependent on the market situation. Putting his perspectives in a nutshell, Edmond Ting, director of P&T Group consultancy on architectural, structural and M&E engineering says, "When the market's up, the buildings will start going up."
He further explains, "We are part of a service industry and depend on the market situation to do business, constantly facing ups and downs. Happily, however, Hong Kong's economy is now on a roll, and with demand for our services continuing to grow from customers from China, I expect a boom for our services in the coming years."
Mr Ting's passion for architecture goes back to his high school years in the US. After graduation, he worked there for about five years before returning to Hong Kong and becoming a senior architect with the P&T Group. He stresses that "hard work, opportunities and performance" contribute to his career success, adding that this winning formula is identical for practitioners in any other profession.
The difference with an architect's work is that it involves a lot of patience and dedication, since a project generally takes from two to three years to be completed, and he must carefully oversee its progress from beginning to end. He points out that the most rewarding part of the whole process is the satisfaction he gains not just when the building is opened, but when it continues year after year to serve a gainful purpose for its occupants and the community at large.
Though now the group's director, he still oversees a project from when it first comes in the office, then through all the subsequent stages including initial design, administration, documentation and construction. At the management level, he sits down with his team every morning to update himself on the progress of each project.
He must also arrange meetings with clients to discuss progress and incorporation of new ideas. This aspect of architecture has become increasingly important since, as Mr Ting points out, clients are more demanding these days and like to be personally involved in their project. This usually involves site visits, so that regular travel is inevitable for him. "Things can become quite hectic," he says. "I just have to keep doing my best. There is no next move for me unless I wanted to leave this company and jump into something new. But I have no intention to do that just now." Being immersed in concerns and challenges at work has now more or less become routine for Mr Ting. "I can't run away from all these challenges, but thankfully over the years I have learnt how to face them," he says.
These days architectural work has been getting more diversified. Some firms now specialise in office and commercial buildings, and others in residential buildings or even hospitals. "Additionally, the building boom has not been restricted to China, but has also spread to the Middle East in recent years," he points out.
Mr Ting does not see architecture as a difficult profession to break into, though it is time consuming to begin with. "You must spend about five years in architecture school, then become a graduate architect for three years to get a licence," he says. "It's important to gain experience to become a fully qualified architect since what you learn from school is probably only about 30 per cent of what the real job comprises. When beginning as a design architect, you need a passion for art. This can make your work much more enjoyable. Finally, you need luck and good timing."
Computerisation a big plus
One advance that has made the work of architects much smoother is the coming on computerisation. We used to depend on hand-drawn drafts and sketches but now we all rely on computers. This is much faster, and also greatly helps us respond to the increasing demands from customers."
Comparing the skills of local and overseas architects, he believes that Hong Kong practitioners, with their greater exposure to so many challenging projects, presently have the edge over their counterparts in China. However, he expects them to quickly pick up greater expertise, especially since modernisation and development will inevitably spread to its rural areas. In the meantime, Hong Kong architects working on important projects in big cities like Shanghai and Beijing can expect pay and conditions at least equal to, if not better than, what they would get here, depending on the individual's experience and performance.
Summing up prospects in architecture, Mr Ting says, "We rely on the market, and are experiencing a good market now. I am optimistic about the future."