The global economy is ailing, but New York contractors, architects, program managers, and engineers are still seeing traction today in the Middle East and Pacific Rim regions. Unlike the round of overseas projects from 20 years ago in Europe and Japan, most of the activity is in developing nations and wealthy and fast-growing small states.
Middle East Dubai and Abu Dhabi, two states within the United Arab Emirates, have been the construction hotbed in recent years, and remain busy by comparison even today, says Jonathan Stark, principal and executive director at Perkins Eastman, a New York-based architect.
His firm has three mixed-use development projects in design in Dubai – Three Fishing Harbors Port Waterfront Development, DuBiotech, and MegaStar. Three other projects it designed are under construction, including the Saadiyat Park Hyatt in Abu Dhabi, the Al Maktoum Accident and Emergency Hospital in Dubai, and the Sheikh Khalifa Specialist Hospital in Ras Al Khaimah, another emirate.
Kohn Pedersen Fox, a New York architect, is also in Abu Dhabi, designing its airport’s Midfield Terminal, as is Langan International, the global arm of a New Jersey-based engineer, which is consulting on the Abu Dhabi Marina hotel-office-residential mixed-use development.
Hill International, a New Jersey-based project manager, is also busy in the Middle East, where it has worked since 1987, says Raouf Ghali, president of the international project manager group, who is based in Athens. He says the firm focused first on Abu Dhabi, working on the Grand Mosque, universities, and other projects a decade ago, and today it remains busy in that state, including running construction management for the Sky Tower and Sun Tower project and for the Etihad Towers.
Other Middle East markets showing promise are Qatar, Kuwait, Bahrain, and Saudi Arabia, says George Leventis, president of Langan International. “In Saudi, 70% of the people are less than 30 years, and the kingdom is making an effort of not only building physical infrastructure but also social infrastructure – hospitals and schools and universities,” he says. “They are also creating industries other than their traditional money-making machines [in oil] because they need to find jobs for all of these people. They have to create a country that has a normal economy, and they have a very significant plan on the map that they are trying to put together.”
Asia-Pacific Kohn Pedersen’s main hub of business is in China, where it has a Shanghai office handling 30 projects. But it also is active in Hong Kong, where the International Commerce Center project is nearing completion, as well as Malaysia, Singapore, Korea, and Japan. It has designed entire cities in China and in Korea, where New Songdo City is already under construction.
“Asia is where we have great growth potential,” says Eugene Kohn, the firm’s chairman.
And Perkins Eastman’s Stark says while the slowdown has affected China and India, he expects both markets to roar back. One of the firm’s designs in Shanghai, the Concordia International School, is nearing completion.
The Rest of the Globe Several firms have built a presence in Africa, including Hill, which is program-project manager for a $2 billion campus expansion at Al Fateh University in Tripoli, Libya. In addition, Stark says Perkins Eastman has also been active in Libya, Egypt, Morocco, and Nigeria.
In Latin America, Turner Construction’s international arm is nearing completion on the $50 million fit-out of a Boston Scientific biotechnology manufacturing facility in Al Ajuela, Costa Rica.
Europe is among the slowest markets at the moment. For instance, Kohn says there is almost no new work in the United Kingdom, with its London office focused on the Middle East.
But Eastern Europe has some opportunities. Hill’s Ghali says the firm is active in the Balkans, including Romania, where it has handled 20 infrastructure rehabilitation projects in the last decade. And Russia is home to projects for Turner, Perkins Eastman, Kohn Pedersen, and engineering firm Thornton Tomasetti. Turner is nearing completion on the $1.2 billion Federation Multicomplex tower in Moscow, a mixed-use, high rise with offices, retail, residential, and hotel spaces.
Ark Latt, v.p. and operations manager for Turner International, says the global market offers construction professionals from the U.S. a unique opportunity to broaden their skills. “You don’t have to spend your whole career there to benefit,” he says.
But Kohn says it takes a willingness to be open to new cultures and ideas. “Be sensitive and have your eyes and ears open,” he says. “You really have to think about it and work hard. You need to show respect and listen to their ideas. Working globally takes a lot of time and expense, but it’s a fabulous experience for achieving and learning.”
Kohn, Latt, and others all say to be aware of the great investment of time. “The good side is we get to travel around the world,” Kohn says. “And the down side is you get to travel around the world. You do spend a lot of time away from your family. But the trips are rewarding, and the buildings are exciting.”