Senior architect Eric Tam Yee-lak is no stranger to handling challenging tasks. Last year, he and his team took on a large project near Hangzhou which required them to design a mixed-use development with more than 30 tower blocks and a large mall.
Tam, from Dennis Lau & Ng Chun Man Architects & Engineers, says he and his colleagues try their best to understand the users' different requirements and daily habits.
"As Hong Kong architects, we offer new ideas about how buildings could be and then we connect these with local requirements," he says.
Demand for Hong Kong's architectural expertise on the mainland is creating many new opportunities. Dennis Lau & Ng Chun Man, for example, is looking to recruit about 20 administrative or design architects, plus several renderers and trainees.
"We are getting more projects, especially on the mainland," says Dennis Lau Wing-kwong, chairman and managing director, who estimates that its workload is up 30 per cent from last year. "Developers want architects from Hong Kong because they feel they have more experience."
Other construction companies are picking up more mainland projects and want experienced architects from Hong Kong, says Christopher Armstrong, a senior consultant with property recruiter Judd Farris. Site architects, project architects and design managers are in demand for residential, hotel, leisure, commercial and industrial construction projects.
Armstrong expects the number of projects to keep growing as more of the lesser mainland cities develop. "Second-tier and third-tier cities are now fairly key," he says. "A lot of residential developers are keen to get into these areas and are using Hong Kong architects."
As projects are increasingly in cities other than Beijing and Shanghai, Armstrong says job-seekers need to be willing to relocate, or at least travel frequently, to areas that may be considered less attractive. Architects familiar with the mainland's building legislation are especially in demand.
Tam says it is valuable to have a general understanding of mainland culture and that communication skills are particularly important when working on these projects.
"There are some cultural differences between the mainland and Hong Kong," he explains. "It is quite challenging to gain trust. We have to work hard to show them that we are giving them the best we can. We have to build a kind of friendship with the client so that we can be a long-term partner."
Tam says developing relationships with clients is an important part of an architect's day-to-day work and those who show they can do this effectively, especially on the mainland, will see their careers progress more quickly.
Dennis Lau & Ng Chun Man has projects in 38 cities on the mainland. These range from residential projects and medical centres to railway stations.
Lau says these projects are attractive for architects because of their scale. While most Hong Kong projects measure fewer than one million square metres, many on the mainland top five million. This gives architects many new challenges and opportunities for interesting design.
Tam says architects wanting to work on such projects should be professionals with a real enthusiasm for design. "We are trying to make people's living environment better," he says.