Architects Find Their Dream Client, in China
Stuart Silk Architects Limited PS
A rendering of Bending Paths, a villa designed by a Seattle architect for a Shanghai developer.
By LAWRENCE W. CHEEK
Published: January 15, 2011
IT was an unusual commission, unlike anything that Stuart Silk, a Seattle architect, had been offered in his quarter-century of practice: design three high-end custom homes for clients he would never meet. Although there were some specifications for functions and dimensions — total square feet, for example, and the number of bedrooms and baths — there wasn’t a clue as to style or a construction budget.
Stuart Silk was commissioned to design nine custom homes near Shanghai with no instructions on style or budget.
“A lot of emotions went through my head,” Mr. Silk says. “Disbelief was one of them. Then the anxiety that comes along with the responsibility to do something without direction. But ultimately it was very freeing and intellectually exciting.”
The commission came from Shanghai, where a Chinese developer was beginning work on a community of villas bearing stratospheric prices — 50 million to 100 million renminbi, or $7.5 million to $15 million.
How did Mr. Silk get the job? A consultant for the developer had simply seen a Palm Springs, Calif., house that he had designed, liked it, and offered him the project.
Before long, the three villas expanded to nine.
Mr. Silk’s 17-person firm
is among scores of small to midsize architectural practices across the United States that are enjoying a startling boom in Chinese projects — whether in spec mansions for sudden multimillionaires or quarter-mile-high skyscrapers.
Although a handful of big firms, like Skidmore, Owings & Merrill of Chicago and HOK of St. Louis, have extended global tentacles for generations, it has been only in the last half-dozen years that Chinese projects have gushed down to their smaller brethren.