The Prominence of Architecture

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Technology has been paramount in the “catching-up” strategy of China. Combining investment, technology and creativity has been conducive to harnessing the creative economy. Design, publishing and arts and crafts are among its most competitive creative products. The top 500 creative industries businesses (as defined by DCMS/CIO 2008) generate an aggregate turnover (revenue) of 1.95 billion euro in Beijing and 3.45 billion euro in Shanghai. The architectural sector is particularly strong, with a share of 25.55% and 12.62% respectively in revenue accounts. Beijing’s top 500 companies employ almost 120 thousand people; while in Shanghai around 173 thousand are employed in the creative sectors. Within the 13 sectors of creative business, architecture plays a role within the top three: in Shanghai that is Fashion, Architecture and Software & IT services, in Beijing’s are Software & IT services, Architecture and Design. Architectural design is nonetheless more intertwined with the manufacturing industries and construction than with cultural related activities.

The prominence of architecture is due to the fact that architectural activities are vertically integrated into large state-owned Local Design Institutes (LDI's) and construction companies. Thus, it is difficult to distinguish the architectural service from the construction companies. Also, the state ownership of architecture practices is dominant in Beijing. Shanghai equally features high percentages, which is understandable as the majority of architecture practices and construction companies are related to the land, which until now is classified as state-owned (with lease periods being traded through the market mechanism). The architectural chapter of this report elaborates further on the consequences of this.

During the past years a couple of changes in the regulations regarding foreign architects operating in China have happened. These will be discussed more in detail in the architecture chapter. The notion of architecture as a cultural product is influenced by the presence of foreign architects in China and the emergence of a scene consisting out of privately owned Chinese architecture firms in Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzhen. Mostly these independent firms have educational, professional and artistic ties with Europe and the United States of America.