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Private Firms/Ateliers/Studios

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Before the consolidation of the Communist People s Republic (1949), there were many private agencies active in China. Under the communist regime, all of them were closed down and replaced by state-owned local design institutes, as outlined above. From 2000 on, a significant amount of private design firms entered the market. They are mainly based in the major metropolitan areas, i.e. Beijing, Shanghai, Chongqing, Shenzhen, and are oftentimes set up by Chinese architects who where trained abroad (as in the US, Germany, France...). They might represent what is commonly referred to as the Chinese “avant-garde” architecture: inasmuch as they are considered to use a more experimental or theoretical design approach to enter the market.

Experimental approaches are, for the most part, influenced by Western architectural concepts introduced to architects during their education and/or work experience abroad. As such they might contrast with the pragmatic attitude of the LDI's. Too, this attitude makes them stand out in the market, by showing a different image of architecture design and the architectural profession in China. These offices employ from 4 up to 30 architects, in some young foreign architects work. A majority operate in the margins of the market, as they are considered too experimental for a broad public or still too unknown for some clients; they have a limited capacity to realize big projects. However, being present on the market for 5 to 10 years, some of these firms are perceived as relatively established, and start to expand with bigger scale commissions.

Their small market-share contrasts with the amount of publicity they receive. And their influence on the architectural field is oftentimes bigger in the West than in China. They represent the ambition to be part of an international scene. Be that as it may, it is important to note that all these “avantgarde” firms are still forced to work with LDI's. As there are licenses to be obtained (e.g. Mechanical, Electrical, Plumbing, Structural engineering) that LDI's (or their semi-privatized versions) monopolize. Sometimes these institutes sign-off the papers, in return for a fee; routinelythey actively collaborate. This, again, proves the importance of the local design institutes in China.