Working in Asia vs in Western Countries as a Landscape Architect

Landscape Architecture for Landscape Architects Forums GENERAL DISCUSSION Working in Asia vs in Western Countries as a Landscape Architect

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    Benjamin Loh

    I wonder if anybody here able to share with me your experience and advice.

    I have been working in Asia for about 10 years now (Malaysia, Singapore and now China) and a couple of years in  New Zealand. In my experience, working for long crazy hours just to meet deadlines is pretty common in most of the private practices in Asia. Time spent on designing is reduced to sheer draughting.

    Is this the norm in Australia, UK and US? 

    Tosh K

    In the US it depends on the firm.  I’ve worked at places with 12hr work days almost exclusively on design (upper tier), some larger firms where 50/wk is normal but spread out from design through construction admin -site visits, submittals, RFIs (upper tier)- though the work type was more specialized (each person had a role) , smaller firms with the whole range and needing to do everything all the time.

    Since the recession I think clients want more for less, leading to longer hours (and less pay); but things have gotten better.  I’ve gotten some quality time sketching/modelling on some projects where the client clearly understands the value of design.

    Robert Anderson

    It has been some time but I too have personal experience working in China and I can honestly say it was a lot of work and often without a weekend off.

    Meanwhile here in the US in my extensive experience there are seldom times where I had to work on a Saturday let alone and entire weekend. We might work more than forty hours a week but that too is a far cry short of the long hours in China.

    I can honestly also give you a perspective on the design and drafting changes that have come to our profession over those same twenty five years. It is my assertion that clients have taken that technology and computers are suppose to make the process of designing and production drawings shorter and have tightened up on fees as a result. Conversely it should be noted that the use of computers is not just for production but also for the design. With the advent of Vectorworks Landmark and other BIM and 3D design packages we should be finally achieving the true intent of CADD as “Computer Added Design and Drafting”.

    I hope this helps and if you would like to discuss this further please don’t hesitate to reach out.

    Benjamin Loh

    Thank you Robert for your sharing with me your experience in China. I too have the same feeling that majority of design firms in


    Ben, I have to sort of disagree with some of Robert Anderson’s comments above.

    To me, computers are a GREAT “production” tool….but, actual “design” should, I believe for the most part, “by hand”.  I have interviewed with some of the TOP 2 or 3 LA firms in the World and they all told me their design work was “by hand”…then, after getting their clients approval, they would move into production and use autoCAD to produce all of their contract documents. 

    That being said, that was a few years ago…maybe things are changing.  But, even if I had a very active LA firm today, personally, I would want my design staff to have excellent design skills “by hand”.  I know to some here on LAND8, I sound like a broken record…no, I’m not at all against the use of computers in the LA profession.

    But, let’s look at the MOVIE industry for a second.  The recent movie “Prometheus”, an outstanding SCIFI movie…the creators of this film first began with hundreds of hand drawn sketches….of the space ship, space suits, interior of the space ship, the aliens….everything was hand drawn…..then, those drawings went on computers to create the final film product. You just don’t SKIP the “hand drawing” process when you’re DESIGNING.

    On Ben’s subject of, well, work ethics (Hi Ben, we’ve chatted here before).  Approx. 10 yrs. ago, I was offered a Senior LA position in Hong Kong, China by the well known LA firm “Belt Collins” based out of Honolulu, Hawaii.  Their Hong Kong office at that time had a total of 120 LA’s on staff.  I was told by their HR director, that a majority of their LA’s remain at work approx. 2 hours after normal business hours (every day), because, their clients were very demanding and that they were continually trying to keep up with project dead lines.  Also, I was told that every LA was “required” to work every other Saturday from 8 am to 1 pm.  So, that’s an additional (20 hrs. per month) I would have had to work…and I assumed it was not paid time.  So, with that LA firm, I think I would have been looking at an approx. 60 hour work week…at least.

    Here in the U.S., I worked for a Dallas, Texas LA firm for approx. 12 years.  Working over 40 hours per week was “optional”, not required.  However, for every hour of over-time we worked, we were paid “double-time”.  Though, in looking back, I feel our salaries were held artificially LOW.  Because, I felt my salary was on the low side, I did work a lot of over-time hours…normally, 40 to 60 hours per month.

    I think Tosh is correct though…that, it really depends on the LA firm.

    Peter Graves

    yup, It very much depends on the firm, worldwide. The idea of working longer hours for less pay has been around for a long time in the design professions and is unlikely to let up anytime soon. I have worked for firms in China and the U.S. that expect crazy hours, even most weekends.

    I would say the majority of landscape architecture firms worldwide have their employees work a lot of unpaid overtime due to A) charging too little for their services, therefore needing free work from their employees and B) an idea that is more cultural and pandemic in nature, which is that we are willing to suffer financially for our careers as designers.

    As a service industry, firms externalize the problem by saying “the client NEEDS the project by tomorrow” or by saying “they just dont KNOW how long it takes to do this 3D rendering, I guess I’ll have to stay up all night again”. And to that I say, have a little self respect. And respect your employees time and charge the proper fee to allow for healthy work/life balance. Our ability to design stems directly from our sensory inputs, created by experiences largely OUTSIDE the office on a day-to-day basis…

    All of that said, I have found a few firms that value this life/work balance very highly, and understand the value of hiring a complete person instead of a robot. I am currently working for one of them. They are out there and I strongly hope that future designers will be able to stand up for themselves in some measure instead of matrying themselves for the sake of their profession. 

    Benjamin Loh

    Thanks Robert W and Peter G for your replies. I agree with both of you. While it’s exciting working in a fast-paced metropolis such as Shanghai where we to get to see our design implemented quickly, I am not convinced that employees should be working OT regularly like nothing without getting extra pay. 

    Peter G – which firms you mentioned that value work/life balance?  🙂

    Robert Anderson


    I’m not saying that we should skip or abandon free had design. On the contrary this is still the most efficient way to develop multiple concepts during schematic design, and depending on the scope of the project DD.

    Jay Lee

    every country has their own unique situation or the rate of urbanization. one cannot compare apple to an orange.

    Rapid urbanization such as China required a quick, mature ( creative is secondardy) design solution.For those who has experience working in China for sure understand the momentum.. so you either try to catch up or just not a good fit for you.

    long hours sure does not help to come out with creative design but i am glad to expose to different type of projects types and sizes which i cannot get from working in US. ( unless you work for those Big LA firm)

    i believe it is the choice for what each designer hope to accomplished in their professional career.


    P.S. to Ben:

    It’s interesting to note……that here in the U.S., Pres. Obama has introduced (I believe) and Executive Order or some type of new legislation that will force companies to pay “Over-Time” to workers (all hours over 40 hours) to employees who are paid over $25,000.00 per year in salary.  Currently, salaried workers are NOT entitled (by law) to be paid for over-time (if they are salaried workers).

    I think this is a plus & a minus.  A plus, of course, for employees.  But, a negative for the owners of companies; as their overhead costs will go up.  And, I tend to think that the company Owners are not going to take a “hit” on this issue.  They will most likely lay some employees off, reduce the number of hours, possibly change some full-time workers to part-time status or reduce employee benefits.  Companies will always keep an eye on their bottom line (profit margins).

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