Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 31 August 2014

Belfast architects have designs on India

Firm celebrates new Mumbai contract and it’s bidding for more

A Belfast firm of architects is bidding for its third deal in India to counter the effects of the downturn in construction at home.

Hall Black Douglas in the east of the city has already completed work on a shopping mall in India — and this week announced a contract to design accommodation for elderly people with dementia near Mumbai.

Now the practice is bidding for work on a large apartment block in India after building up a relationship with a client for over two years.

Director Alistair Beckett was tight-lipped on the value of the work it has done so far in India.

But he said the downturn at home — architecture is the profession which has contracted the most in the collapse of the construction market — had forced it to look overseas.

It’s thought to be the only Northern Ireland architecture firm working in India, a territory it first explored on an Invest NI trade mission, though some have entered the market in the Middle East.

“We worked exclusively at home for the first 20 years of the practice,” said Mr Beckett.

“But then there were diminishing workloads at home, and we saw the opportunity for the Indian market, and it’s just a market we felt comfortable in. It is based on British law, it’s English speaking and they respect UK design.”

He said the variety of work it had done at home had left it in good shape to benefit from a range of opportunities available in India.

“Fortunately we were quite diverse in our portfolio, with health care, churches, community groups and conservation projects.”

That versatility helped keep the firm busy in the first part of the downturn, before it began to look elsewhere.

The deal announced this week will see it work on a residential home being built by Paranjape Schemes (Construction).

HBD will work with Studio 55, an architecture firm which it works with in India, designing the inner and outdoor layout of the 10-storey building.

Invest NI trade director Dr Vicky Kell congratulated the firm on its success.

“This is a tremendous result for a company which has committed significant resources over the past two years to gain a foothold in one of the world’s most dynamic and competitive markets.”

The firm communicates with its Indian clients on Skype and email, and Mr Beckett said Skype was crucial as it facilitated face-to-face contact.

“You need face-to-face contact in the Indian market.

“It’s very relationship-focused, and you don’t get a job the first time you visit. You need to get to know people.”

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