The DFC Executive Board has just concluded its meeting in Shanghai which focused on sustained and profitable growth of design firms in Asia and on the impact of trends in China on global design innovation.

This China meeting underscored the importance of sharing and innovating on a global scale. There are changing opportunities and potentially disruptive patterns that could affect us all on a global scale, especially in design procurement and delivery. Below is a brief recap of the executive board meeting itinerary.

The following firms provided reports and perspectives on global practice developments: Cannon Design, SOM, Goettsch Partnership, Gensler, BST Global, HKS, Daniel P. Coffey & Associates, Steed Hammond Paul, Kasian, BCI Asia, Armstrong, and Steelcase. The lunch was a short walk, only a few blocks away, in an area master planned by SOM, Arup, and Ben Wood and Associates.

The DFC also journeyed to the Architectural Research and Design Institute of Tongji University. A presentation by BCI Asia included the Chinese construction forecast – the soon to be largest construction economy in the world. We also heard informative presentations on innovation in materials and form from Zhang Lei, the Chief Architect at Atelier Zhang Lei, who is also professor on the faculty at Nanjing University. Additionally, Ren Lizhi, the Deputy President at Tongji University, who brought additional design trends reports (with visual presentations) by Lu Qiu, Zheng Ke, and Zhang Junjie joined us. The architectural work of the Xian Dai Design Group, Werkhart International and others were featured. A campus tour capped a full day of insight and occasional rich revelations.

Transformative Design Explored in Shanghai

Several themes ran consistent through our program sessions. The first is the large-scale environmental impact that our global cities will increasingly have. Now with a metropolitan population of nearly 20 million people, Shanghai is a Petri dish model of sorts where we are learning successes as well as failures. The second major theme is the new understandings of the Chinese business and market conditions and how this will disrupt linear trend projections on a global scale. Additionally, there was considerable discussion on delivery strategy. Notwithstanding the ubiquitous bamboo scaffolding, there is a noticeable revolution underway with new products emerging.

China is undergoing the most massive urbanization in human history and Shanghai has emerged as the centerpiece. As China’s most cosmopolitan city, Shanghai is home to the financial center of China (Lujiazui) and to the most foreign corporate headquarters in the world.

At the closing session of the DFC Shanghai board, we discussed priorities regarding “what should change in the future”. There were sixteen major points delivered, articulately, by the attendees from both China and the United States. We then combined and edited the sixteen to include a top ten priority list of recommendations for change.

China’s Architects are Innovating Change

This DFC meeting encouraged us to think a bit more cogently about the future. In addition, while there is reason to be either optimistic or pessimistic about the future, we learned to be anticipatory and to do what we can to address the issues of our day. Perhaps the one outstanding reason for the success of the meeting was that everyone came with the intention to be open, to share, and to better understand today’s opportunities and dilemmas in China. The fact is we became closer friends as well.