There was some inspiring content at the RIBA's Guerilla Tactics conference this week, particularly in the session on working overseas. Guerilla Tactics is a conference on small practices, and those participating in the session were not the international behemoths from which one expects to hear. Instead they were representatives from surprisingly small practices that have found a niche.
Sybarite, for example, has become a specialist in high-end retail design and does much of its travelling with its clients as they open stores in new spaces. It overcomes the problem of local contractors wanting to dumb down its fine finishes by prefabricating as much as possible. And, very intelligently, it warns potential clients how much its jobs are likely to cost before embarking on them. It also wherever possible (which seems to be everywhere but China) insists on working with UK contracts.
China is the country where the real star of the show Ibbotson Architects is working. Founder Helen Ibbotson set up the practice just a few years ago. It is based in the Peak District just outside Sheffield and carries out a range of smallish and sensitive work here - plus massive masterplans in China.
Yet its core team is only five people (including a Mandarin-speaking architectural assistant who can make vital phone calls to China). The practice has done this by seeing opportunities as they came along, originally being introduced to the country by a developer who then decided not to proceed further. It has seized opportunities while taking care to have top legal advice. Ibbotson now speaks a little Mandarin, enough to make opening remarks in meetings, and her website is bilingual. She has been wondering about exploring opportunities in Brazil...
An inspirational story for any small practice.