Architecture and design to China

Trends and opportunities

The market

For several decades, high levels of economic growth and urbanisation have been two of the defining features of China’s economic miracle.

In 1978, only 18 per cent of Chinese citizens lived in cities but by 2015, that number had climbed to 56 per cent. The World Bank forecasts that 70 per cent of Chinese citizens will live in cities by 2030.

As income levels continue to rise, aspirational Chinese consumers expect improved housing, better leisure and entertainment options, efficient and well-planned transport networks and a greater focus on sustainability and energy efficiency.

Architecture and design firms, both international and local, have found that the Chinese market has become increasingly aware of environmental issues. Chinese project owners are more willing to apply green building standards and sustainable solutions to projects.

One example is Shanghai-based developer Landsea, which successfully completed a green building housing project in Shanghai for which it was awarded the Ashden Award for Sustainable Building in London.

Since the early 1990s, Australian architects and urban planners have delivered many projects including green buildings and contributed to China’s changing landscape and growing major cities (notably Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Shenzhen as first-tier cities).

Aurecon was responsible for the design of the bioclimatic transparent façade of Shanghai Tower – the tallest skyscraper in China. The façade helped the Shanghai Tower obtain a LEED Gold pre-certification from the United States Green Building Council, as well as a Green Three-Star China Award from the China Green Building Committee.

Beyond the first-tier cities, the rising wealth of the Yangtze and Pearl River Delta regions has seen many projects delivered in Jiangsu, Zhejiang and Guangdong, and in more recent years, cities of Western and North Eastern China including Chongqing, Chengdu and Shenyang.

Australian steel manufacturer BlueScope Steel managed to create China’s first three-star rated industrial green building in the historic central Chinese capital of Xi’an within a period of just 18 months. The new plant combines advanced steel manufacturing with sustainable development technology.

In 2014, Chinese President Xi Jinping called for less ‘weird architecture’ to be built. In 2016, China’s State Council released new urban planning guidelines which stated that ‘bizarre architecture that is not economical, functional, aesthetically pleasing or environmentally friendly’ would not be built in the future.


Since the early 1990s, Australian architects and urban planners have delivered many projects contributing to China’s changing landscape and growing cities. There are currently over 40 Australian architectural studios with operations in China and over 300 firms that have won work in China. Australian architects have delivered projects across a diverse range of categories including:

  • commercial
  • retail/mixed use
  • tourism and leisure precincts
  • sporting facilities
  • education facilities
  • waterfront and marina
  • aged care, landscaping and interiors
  • urban transformation
  • landscape design for major infrastructure projects
  • industrial
  • residential.

The recent economic slowdown in the housing and construction sectors has reduced opportunities in certain sectors. A large proportion of work delivered by Australian architects in China continues to be high-end commercial.

Competitive environment

Competition in the architectural and design sector in China is fierce: it is estimated that, among the top 200 global architectural firms, more than 140 have already entered the market.

According to China Architecture and Interior Design Net, in 2014 China had 17,406 architecture and design firms with 330,028 architects and designers.

Foreign architects generally compete on their ability to contribute innovative and sustainable design techniques to leading Chinese projects.

Tariffs, regulations and customs

Industry standards

China has in place a green building ‘Three-Star Rating System’ for the promotion of sustainable development.

For more information, visit China green building evaluation and comparison to the LEED rating system.

Marketing your products and services

Market entry

China implements a stringent licensing regime for firms that seek to register a wholly owned foreign enterprise (WOFE) with architectural services. Australian architectural firms interested in this company structure should ensure they have a complete understanding of staff certification requirements, including in some cases the need for local Chinese certifications, among other commercial considerations.

As a foreign architectural firm, it is also possible to set up a WOFE as a consultancy firm on architectural design. This can result in less arduous licensing requirements for the company. All official documents and drawings, including permission drawings for the local authorities, official tender drawings and execution drawings then have to be stamped by a local design institute (LDI) for approval. It is not necessary to have a joint venture; cooperation with different LDI's on a project basis is possible.

Once established, partnerships with local design institutes (LDIs) and developers can be a key factor in gaining information on a forward pipeline of work. Chinese design institutes often play a critical role in the approval, recommendation and assessment of new products for projects managed by provincial and district construction bureaus.

Government projects are coordinated through provincial and district construction bureaus and are often managed through a competition or tender process. This includes development of office buildings, schools, health and aged care facilities, cultural facilities and urban planning.

Provisions for Australian architects and urban planning firms is made under the China-Australia Free Trade Agreement (ChAFTA) to improve access to projects.

Links and industry contacts

Government, business and trade resources for China

Ministry of Finance
Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development (MOHURD)
National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC)
State Development and Planning Commission
Architectural Society of China (ASC)
China Academy of Urban Planning and Design
China Economic Information Network
China Green Building Council (ChinaGBC)

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