Roundtable Forum: Creating Success In A Global Environment

February 28, 2017

With the advent of new technologies, tools and processes that allow businesses to operate internationally, geographical boundaries in our global economy are becoming more and more blurred. International expansion comes along with its own set of challenges and opportunities and requires strategic and nuanced approaches to business development and communications – both internally and externally.

We sat with Principals David Stavros (Toronto), Patrick Fejér (Toronto), Rob Marshall (Dubai) and Stéphane Lasserre (Singapore) to discuss how B+H studios across the globe work collaboratively and integrate services to create cohesive design solutions for their clients, no matter where they are located.


What are the main challenges a global firm experiences and how can they be overcome effectively?

{Patrick} One of the biggest challenges we face as designers, which also happens to provide for the most interesting opportunities for innovation, is our role in translating the complexity behind every project into thoughtful and cohesive solutions. As a global firm, we must be familiar with, and well-versed in, cultural, political, economic and environmental factors that affect all the markets we work in, right down to the local level.

The key to working globally is to build a solid local sensibility where employees are able to execute design ideas ‘on the ground’. Through strong relationships with governments and business partners, and the employment of local experts, we can better prepare ourselves for the obstacles that will inevitably arise through the planning and construction processes.

{David} In addition to our global knowledge and expertise, there is an inherent expectation from our clients that we understand the local culture and social nuances. They trust that we have a handle on their needs and are making a real difference in their community. We are not just form givers: we are storytellers. As architects, we approach design in a way to communicate a narrative about people, their habits, the environment, and the context. Beneath every project and development, there’s a story to be told. It’s a story about the cultural context. It reflects attitudes, customs, and beliefs. It’s a way to preserve the social fabric of a society. In order to deliver the unique value we bring to our clients, we have to move beyond simply what they ask for. For us it’s the added layer of interpretation of our clients’ needs that creates the further value and point of differentiation they expect of us.

{Stéphane} Effective communication is always key to a business’s success, but when a company expands globally it can become more challenging. Firms must remain flexible and adaptable as they broaden their global footprint. When you have someone you’re collaborating with sitting next to you or in the same office you can easily exchange ideas, but working across borders and time zones can make things more difficult. Luckily, there are many ways to connect through new technology, including collaborative tools that allow us to share documents as they’re being reviewed and annotated in real time by both parties. Video conferencing allows for face-to-face interaction, but with differences in time – sometimes up to twelve hours – it can be challenging to coordinate, so flexibility and adaptability is the key to successful and productive meetings.

How has the face of B+H changed since it started expanding globally?

{Patrick} Global expansion allows us to be involved in regions with new emerging markets and we can use the experience we gain in one area to infuse innovation in another. This proficiency also contributes to a greater sense of adaptability within the many studios of the firm when we collaborate to share findings across countries and continents. Different regions will have different defining characteristics; the collaborative cross-pollination that derives from marrying different sets of social and economic conditions provide us with unique design opportunities not found elsewhere.

{Rob} Yes, new client markets translate to new suppliers, partners and challenges within a larger network, and ultimately, new opportunities – particularly when it comes to making an impact in underdeveloped regions. When we bring fresh perspectives to these areas, we support emerging economies through the design of the infrastructure they need to better serve communities and individuals. As planners and architects, we have a big responsibility in creating successful cities that address the needs of all segments of a society – it’s about looking at the big picture.

{Stéphane} Big picture thinking also has to do with a holistic approach to the overall design. When we look at a project, we have to be conscious of the fact that we aren’t only designing buildings. We’re designing environments and experiences that extend far beyond bricks, beams and mortar. We look at how all the components, details and transitions – interior and exterior – contribute to the overall design and people’s experiences. Buildings must be culturally responsive as they fit into a specific context, with a specific program and a specific climate. Although built environments address certain needs at a certain time, they connect people within them and therefore must echo the community. A comprehensive process will lead to comprehensive design outcomes, and it’s our responsibility to manage that process to achieve the best solutions. With a global perspective, we have the opportunity to learn about new cultures and understand different ways to think about design solutions that borrow from lessons learned in other parts of the world.


How do global offices inform and influence each other?

{Rob} As designers who have had the opportunities to work on projects around the world, we’ve experienced many different places and we work to bring diverse ideas together. We’re intuitively drawn to, and inspired by, different experiences and interpretations of design, but great design and innovation don’t happen in a silo. Individually, we’re driven to try new things and explore new ideas. When we get together to collaborate, share opinions and explore possibilities, that’s when we uncover new and alternative ways to solve a client’s challenges. Many perspectives are better than one or a few. Ideas build upon each other and everyone brings their unique experiences to their work to contribute to the whole. Lessons learned in one part of the world can be applied to another.

{David} Having global offices means that we have a larger and more diverse reserve of skills, knowledge and experience. This only helps to inform solutions through a multi-faceted approach to our work. When we begin to fuse different cultural influences, constraints and opportunities, we begin to paint a bigger picture and understand how to maneuver through design challenges in new and unexpected ways. We can see this clearly in urban planning and the development of smart cities. When we look at the local context and imagine how we can implement ideas from different regions into our design solutions, we begin to see how a collaborative spirit and open approach can contribute to the evolution of cities across the world.