UK design firm finds its groove in China

June 28 , 2019

The groundbreaking work, which started in April at the 100,000-square-meter Chengdu Westminster School in Southwest China’s Sichuan province marks not only the first of the six campuses of the nearly-900-year-old UK private school in China, but also the largest expansion of a Western school brand into the Chinese education market.

It has also spawned unparallel business opportunities for Broadway Malyan, a London-headquartered architecture firm that has been in charge of the design of the Chengdu school, to make a smooth transition and sustain, if not further accelerate, its growth in China.

As the country’s retail landscape has been heavily impacted by the booming e-commerce market, leaving a number of investors wavering in the idea of building more shopping malls, the architecture firm, which established its China office in Shanghai in 2008, is seeing the majority of its work shifting from design for retail to the education sector over the past decade.

In 2018, nearly 70 percent of the revenue generated by its China office, staffed by a total of 45 employees, came from design work in the education sector. That compares with 2014, when shopping malls and buildings contributed to upward of 80 percent of the revenue.

“The aspirations in China are much greater than anywhere else in the world, and the facilities of international schools both in operation and in pipeline are fantastic,” said Stuart Rough, chairman of the global design practice with 16 offices around the world.

“There are theaters, Olympicsize indoor swimming pools… In the UK, a school has on average 500-800 students. While in China, we are building schools for 3,000 kids. It’s such a huge task, and always gets completed before deadline,” he said.

In the case of Chengdu Westminster School, which is scheduled to open in the autumn of 2020, the all-through boarding school will include a “West End” standard theater with a seating capacity of 1,000 people, and a total of 70 music practice rooms distributed between teaching and boarding blocks.

With a particular focus on STEAM subjects (science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics), the school will enroll kids ranging in age from three to 18 years old.

In total area, Broadway Malyan has designed 350,000 square meters of schools in China, with another 500,000 square meters of schools on the “drawing board,” which are to be completed by the end of 2020. The percentage of the education sector contributing to the company’s total business is the highest among its global offices.

China has overtaken the United Arab Emirates to be the world’s largest market for international schools since 2016, home to 597 establishments, according to a report by the Center for China and Globalization(CCG), a Beijing-based independent think tank.

A number of real estate developers including Vanke and Country Garden are trying to take a share of the market either by creating their own brands or collaborating with prestigious international ones.

“As the Chinese economy is transitioning to a quality-growth path, we are also reinventing ourselves in the market to stay ahead of competition. Chinese consumers today are no longer satisfied with just getting better clothes or meals. They are investing in the future, like education for kids, leisure, welfare and health,” said Rough.


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