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State-owned Local Design Institutes (LDI)

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Before the 1990s, all architectural design institutes were state-owned and the only ones legally allowed designing. They were directly commissioned by the central government based on national wide logistic and economic central planning. Architecture competitions did not exist. Even before the late 1980s, a design fee was not introduced since all design institutes operated according to the annual quota given by the central government.

Since the last two decades, these design institutes started a dramatic transformation. In order to deal with new market conditions, new clients and trends, the huge bureaucratic institutes devised strategies to operate more flexible and market responsive. This leads to a process of privatization, both partly and fully. However, and as explained above, this did not imply that all government links were cut down – the LDI's became less visible but kept to a certain extent power behind the scenes.

Today, two of the biggest, most active and powerful LDI’s in Beijing are fully state owned: the Beijing Institute for Architectural Design (BIAD) and the China Architectural Design and Research Group (CADREG). In Shanghai the Shanghai Xian Dai Architectural Design holds a dominant position, with a membership of 20 professional companies including East China Architectural Design & Research Institute (ECADI) and Shanghai Institute of Architectural Design & Research East China Design Institute (SIADR), housing more than 1000 staff members. LDI's were disconnected from government’s administration where they used to belong to, and were pushed to become more market responsive, but are still owned by the government.

Another important evolution is the emergence of personal architecture studios within the framework of LDI's. The institutes have internally created a system of smaller project-focused teams. These are more dynamic and flexible and, under impulse of a capable/ well-known /influential architect, were even granted a semi-independent position. As such LDI’s are happy to house their own “experimental” architects, in a time where the market for “contemporary” Chinese architecture and its ”star-architects” are growing. The studios gain from access to LDI’s staff, network and client base. Examples would include Li Xinggang Studio (part of CADREG, Beijing) or Studio 6 (part of Tongji Urban Planning & Design Institute, Shanghai).