Brad Perkins may run out of room for immigration stamps in his passport soon. Earlier this year, Perkins, a principal and founder of Perkins Eastman, New York City, set off on a 17-day tour to visit prospective and current clients. It took him from New York to Mumbai to Delhi, and briefly back to Mumbai before hitting Bangkok, Shanghai, Beijing, Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City and finally Seoul.
“I saw the inside of a lot of planes,” he says.
Perkins hopes to rack up projects abroad along with his miles. In order to leverage its existing talent during the economic downturn, Perkins Eastman actively seeks ways to keep U.S.-based employees busy on global projects.
“It was a basic part of our strategy when we saw the economy beginning to impact parts of our domestic practice as early as 2007,” he adds. Today, the firm counts 120 projects across more than two dozen countries, with New Yorkers engaged on most of them.
Although not openly apparent in design drawings, estimating reports or engineering studies, the “Made in New York” label appears on work executed around the globe. As local firms pursue opportunities across borders, they work with a cadre of New York-based professionals dedicated to sparking, spearheading and supporting international projects.
The formulas these firms use are fluid—owing to the different cultures and conditions they encounter—and the strategies vary among architects, engineers and contractors. Still, a common theme is that as tasks get more sophisticated, local firms report that they are more likely to inject New York-area staff into the mix.
In some cases, it’s as simple as asking colleagues for help, such as the call a few weeks ago to Parsons Brinckerhoff’s tunnel ventilation engineering experts in New York from Peter Allibone, the firm’s chief project manager on the $4.6-billion Eglinton Crosstown Light Rail Transit job in Toronto. His onsite team is supporting project management and developing engineering standards and review criteria, but it relies often on PB professionals elsewhere.
“We had to verify the fire resistance for concrete tunnel liners—that’s very specialized work,” Allibone says. “That type of request is fairly frequent on a small scale.”
In a similar vein, Turner Construction’s mission-critical data center experts in New York were called in recently when the company won a preconstruction assignment for a large Mexico City data center facility, says Nicholas Billotti, president and CEO for Turner International.
The horizons stretch far for New York firms—from the hyperactive Abu Dhabi, China and Vietnam development scenes to bustling emerging markets across Asia, Africa and Latin America. Some firms made strategic calls when the current downturn tempted them to extend their global client bases. For example, Tishman Construction, New York, looked at demand, costs and profit potential from various markets before choosing to start in Abu Dhabi, where it is building two resorts.
“We won the job [here] and then set up our presence there,” says John Livingston, Tishman’s president.
Hazen and Sawyer recently stepped up efforts to increase its environmental engineering services to foreign markets. Although the firm has performed work in Latin America for several decades, it’s now picking up work in Africa and the Middle East, says Ian Seed, a senior associate at the New York-based firm. “Over the past year, we have become more positively assertive about finding work overseas, with a preference for projects where we can have much of the work done in the home office,” he adds.
Though not every foreign project demands New York-based resources, examples abound, particularly for architects who export design work.
In Perkins Eastman’s case, despite having six overseas offices, 75% of work not handled onsite taps New York resources. That’s often because New York is home to teams with core specialties, such as the health-care group, Perkins says. The 700,000-sq-ft Sheikh Khalifa Specialist Hospital in the United Arab Emirates ranks among the health-care group’s recent work.
Other current projects relying on New York contributions include the new Mohali Campus for the Indian School of Business in Chandigarh, India. The school is partnering with RSP Design Consultancy to design a 725,000-sq-ft complex that should open next year. The firm also used New York resources on designs for the 484,375-sq-ft, 600-room Baia Bianca Resort Hotel in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt, set to open next year.
Hazen and Sawyer’s New York office provides lead consultant duties on development of a master plan—including feasibility study and preliminary design—for a sewage collection system and wastewater treatment plant in Dakar, Senegal. The firm is also lead consultant for teams of onsite engineers planning wastewater treatment plant upgrades in Haifa, Israel, and in Johannesburg—including an effort in South Africa to power their facilities using the methane gas they emit. New York staffers provide guidance and oversight for that gas propulsion specialty, because local market engineers have limited experience, Seed says.
Meanwhile, New York experts have pitched in dozens of times on designs for Toronto’s 33-km light rail scheduled to break ground this summer, PB’s Allibone says. “And we’ve got another 10 years to go,” he adds.
Tishman’s New York staffers provided extensive early support for its Abu Dhabi projects, including the Westin Hotel & Spa, a 176-room resort and conference facility to be completed this year alongside an upgraded Abu Dhabi Golf Resort.