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Overseas is the new local

Hugh Pearman

The best way to work overseas is to make it local

You hear a lot, all the time, about British architects making headway overseas – especially the fast-developing markets of China, India and Brazil. We have some evidence: every month we send on average 4,387 copies of the RIBA Journal (nearly 16 per cent of the total circulation) to members based internationally rather than in the UK. Meanwhile the non-UK visitors to are a larger percentage still, at over 37%, and the analytics show that they hail from 136 nations. Who’d have thought that (on the day I checked) Norway would rank third as a source of our online visitor numbers, after the UK and the USA and ahead of Ireland? 

All this means that your RIBA Journal is snapping at the heels of other magazines claiming international reach, and this partly explains why there is more overseas material in the magazine than you might imagine: projects and reports from 27 other countries during 2014, for instance, and more online. But in all the excitement and nervousness about new markets, let’s not forget an old pairing: the UK and US.  Which brings me to the success story known as Grimshaw.

Elsewhere on this site you’ll find a key transport interchange in Manhattan’s financial district by Grimshaw, with Arup, that has taken 10 years to bring to completion. Part of the reinvigoration of the district following 9/11, it’s a classic engineer-architect hook-up in which something inordinately complex is finally fixed and expressed in civic terms through a very simple architectural device: the oculus.  Reviewing it is our latest contributor, Manhattan-based Ian Volner.

Grimshaw has done something very different in New York, more so than any other well-known UK practice: it has gone native

There is more behind this. Grimshaw has done something very different in New York, more so than any other well-known UK practice: it has gone native. It is embedded in the city in numbers, and has been for years. You could argue that these days Grimshaw is as much an American practice as it is a UK one (and let’s not forget its other offices in Melbourne, Sydney and Doha).  It has been very systematically done: America with its federal system is a tough nut for British companies of any kind to crack, and there is a great deal of difference in being there on the ground all the time rather than parachuting in the occasional competition-winning design.  You might say that the Fulton Center is a classic piece of Grimshaw English high-tech: however, look at other work it has done in the States, such as its Via Verde ecological social housing project in the Bronx, and you see a practice in the process of evolution to suit local circumstances and opportunities.  

As well as practices, the RIBA is also busy on the international front. It has recently launched a more proactive strategy for engaging with those facing need or conflict which includes a two day summit, Designing City Resilience. This matters to all of us.

And finally: we might sometimes pretend indifference, but winning awards is important, so you should all enter your best projects for this year’s RIBA Awards: deadline is February 5, details at We do it too, and are delighted to have won Magazine of the Year in the non-weekly category in the International Building Press National Journalism Awards.