PES-Architects won in 2008 the design competition arranged for an opera house in the City of Wuxi in China. Now the work is in progress. Before this project, the office has drawn up plans for over thirty sites in China: competition entries, concept designs and completed buildings. The range encompasses public buildings, offices, residential buildings, hotels, commercial centres and airport terminals.
PES-Architects is one of the oldest architects’ offices in Finland. It was founded in 1968 by architect and professor Pekka Salminen, who now serves as President of the company’s Board of Directors. His son Jarkko is the Managing Director, and the third partner is architect Tuomas Silvennoinen. Jarkko Salminen has an M.Sc. degree in construction engineering. – I joined the office in 1995, in the aftermath of the economic recession, Jarkko Salminen says.
Competitions are important
Finnish architects’ offices are usually small, employing fewer than ten people. In consequence, many architects work as entrepreneurs. This brings its own challenges and opportunities to the work.
Design competitions are an established practice in the sector. Through competitions, it is possible to obtain new clients and demanding contracts. In open competitions, entrants are responsible for their own costs, whereas in invited competitions the arranger pays a participation fee. – At present, we participate mainly in invited competitions, because competition entries bind a lot of resources. We participate constantly in both Finnish and Chinese competitions.
And after a successful competition, there is usually little time to gather a team of competent people because Chinese projects are known for their fast tempo. – A year ago it would have been difficult to put together a large group quickly, but now we succeeded.
Of course, there are also standing clients. For more than twenty years, PES-Architects has been involved in the design of buildings for Helsinki-Vantaa Airport, ranging from terminal buildings and car parks to various renovations and other smaller projects.
Half for exports
Success rests on years of hard work. – As an established office, we have many references, but in addition, we have constantly been able to find new outlooks, Salminen explains.
Russia is another major export sector. – It is almost like operating on the domestic market, because the client is often a Finnish contractor and we largely play by the Finnish rules. We have also made designs for German clients in Germany. For instance, we won the architectural competition for the Marienkirche Concert Hall, constructed in a medieval church, Jarkko Salminen continues.
Support is needed
Exports of services is still a new concept, and entrepreneurs need assistance and support for it. PES-Architects has participated in the three-year Export Partners project led by Finpro for the Ministry of Employment and the Economy. – Cooperation has been efficient. It is just the kind of support companies like ours need, Salminen comments.
– We already know Finnvera from the 1990s, when we were granted a loan for internationalisation. An essential feature was that we did not need as much collateral as for a bank loan. For the opera house project in Wuxi, we received Finnvera’s export credit guarantees. The process was really flexible even though this type of exporting of services was evidently a new thing for Finnvera, too. Nevertheless, they shared our enthusiasm for the project. A guarantee plays an important role especially when operating on a new market where the seller’s legal protection is almost non-existent, Salminen explains.
– China is a market area of its own kind. Projects are large and they are executed quickly. Entering the Chinese market has required much work and commitment, which may have partly reduced our input in domestic marketing, says Jarkko Salminen.
Contacts with China were built with the help of architect Fang Hai, Doctor of Arts, who lives in Finland. Years of hard work have been spent on marketing and competitions. – Reaching a profitable level took quite a long time, but now we are starting to be inside the market, Salminen says.
• Turnover in 2009: EUR 3.35 million
• Personnel: 30–40
• Makes plans for public buildings, such as concert halls, theatres, schools and cultural and sports facilities, as well as office buildings and industrial plants
• Special fields: design of airports, air terminals and concert halls.