Feature: Around the World in Architecture

Caroline Richards
UK Head of Architecture at PM Group (UK)

Around the World in Architecture

After 6 years of living and working in Vietnam I have recently returned to the UK. There is no doubt that living and working in SE Asia brings with it some challenges both cultural and professional, especially if you are living in one of the developing countries as I was when I accepted a job posting in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) in southern Vietnam.

Vietnam has many mega projects in construction as well as in the pipeline, including the development of smart cities, large education campuses, infrastructure and mega towers all requiring local management matched to international skills for design and delivery.

In Asia, it is common for International and local teams to come together to deliver Projects in this way and so there is a high degree of remote collaboration and skill sharing across multiple delivery platforms, cultures, and languages. This type of collaboration brings with it an inherent need to develop and improve our collaborative working practices and there is a keen focus on sharing knowledge and the development and use of collaborative software for Project delivery.

Collaborating and working with international teams not only requires technical and software skill but also an understanding on both sides of cultural and language differences that impacts the team dynamic. To work this way requires significant investment in staff and so training and mentoring is a key part of everyday office life.

Training Local Staff to International Standards

Because of this, a large part of my time in Vietnam has been focussed on creating, developing, training and mentoring Architecture and Engineering teams who can work together collaboratively on these large mega projects as well as others in Australia, Singapore, China, SE Asia, USA, UAE and UK. Over the years as BIM came to the forefront we quickly adapted and trained our teams to work in the cloud with our global partners and other regional and international offices, setting up new systems and processes that ensured efficient delivery balanced against quality to various international standards. 


South East Asia is very much about innovation. It is a fast growing and emerging market with extremely challenging delivery programmes often for lump sum fees which must cover all eventualities in a Project, even those unknown at project start. To deliver Projects with these inherent risks requires delivery consultants to look for efficiencies of delivery and risk mitigation using new and innovative software, automated processes, computational design, AI and VR. Teams must be able to collaborate easily together and have a desire to use technology to support good design and delivery.

Cloud working for International teams

My last digital office setup through 2019 was for Surbana Jurong Group, a large multidisciplinary Company with over 16,000 staff members across the globe. I was tasked with the creation of a skilled, remote, and fully flexible, multidisciplinary BIM team that was entirely cloud focused with all operational systems managed through various Team profiles and all Projects delivered through collaborative working via BIM360. The benefit of a team set up in this way is that it is agile enough to test new software, working processes and systems which in turn can be used to transform other teams and offices with a sharing of skills, regardless of location.

So, what am I bringing back with me from my time away in SE Asia apart from some wonderful memories, some lifelong friendships, and a deep love of all things Vietnamese? I would say that the most important lesson for me has been to embrace change, to work collaboratively and to look for innovation in all that I do.

The views in these postings are my own and do not necessarily represent positions, strategies, or opinions of PM Group

These are the views of the author and not of Barton Legal.