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Offshore architectural design not for everyone

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Outsourcing companies that supply computer-aided design (CAD) work have gained in popularity in recent years, but are receving some mixed reviews in San Diego County.

CMLS China, Outsource2India, Philippines-based Architectural Overseas Outsourcing and Silicon Valley Outsourcing, a company with architectural service providers in at least a dozen countries, are among the many firms offering offshore design services to U.S.-based architects.

While there are advantages to outsourcing, such as reduced costs and an effective 24-hour production schedule, many local architectural firms are shying away from the idea.

The services offered to the architects are quite extensive. CMLS China, for example, says it provides CAD drawing, drafting, rendering, modeling, designing and conversion services.

“We provide a full range of CAD drafting and conversion services including design development, building plans, extensions and additions, working drawings, as-built drawings, mechanical, electrical and plumbing drawings,” CMLS claimed, adding that the 12-hour time difference is a critical factor in the company's success.

Joseph Wong, a principal at Joseph Wong Design Associates who is from Southern China and has an office in Shanghai, said he uses offshore services occasionally.

“We have looked at India, and we occasionally use work from China [outside the Shanghai office] when we want a quick turnaround on a color rendering or a physical model,” Wong said. “We don’t use China that much here because they are still on the metric system.”

Wong said the ability to work on projects on both sides of the world regardless of the time is a major factor in outsourcing’s favor. However, he likes the quality of work he sees in the United States.

“Our productivity is quite high here,” Wong said.

Wong’s locally designed projects include the Marriott Del Mar Hotel, The Neurosciences Institute in La Jolla and the Hilton San Diego Bayfront Hotel, among others.

Outsource2India emphasized low costs in its promotional materials.

“Our staff are capable of servicing your design needs from conceptualization, code review, to construction documents and because our basic labor costs are significantly lower, our team is the perfect extension to your [computer-aided design and drafting] department. We are here to help you hit your profit target,” Outsource2India states.

Paul Schroeder, a principal at Delawie Architects, said while the cost savings may be significant, it is far from being a deciding factor for his firm.

“There certainly are positives in terms of cost, but the problem is the quality is typically not there,” Schroeder said.

Schroeder said his firm has occasionally outsourced renderings and elevation plans to Asia if high quality wasn’t an issue.

“If it’s the client’s money, we want to keep that work local,” Schroeder said. “And we like to keep our people employed.”

Delawie’s projects have included the Hotel del Coronado expansion, the Hotel Solamar in the East Village, and the Mission City Corporate Center, among others.

Architectural Overseas Outsourcing has a team of U.S.-trained architects and CAD technicians based in the Philippines. The firm said its architectural services range from conceptual design to construction detailing.

Keith Pittsford, a principal with SGPA Architecture & Planning, said he doesn’t even like to have renderings produced overseas.

“Sure you can do it cheaper, but the quality is lacking,” Pittsford said.

Pittsford said while his firm looked at outsourcing in the Philippines, India and Argentina even in better days, SGPA balked because of differences in management philosophy and language barriers.

“We consciously decided not to do it,” Pittsford said.

He added that outsourcing might make sense in some instances if it is a large project that can’t be handled in-house and isn’t too complicated.

“Most work, except for school work, is very dynamic,” Pittsford said. “It doesn’t make sense to outsource it.”

SGPA projects have included the Westfield Plaza Bonita expansion, the Uptown District mixed-use development between North Park and Hillcrest, and a redesign and 320,000-square-foot expansion of Terminal 2 at Lindbergh Field.

Silicon Valley Outsourcing provides architectural services in countries ranging from Belgium to Argentina. This firm also provides architectural engineering, design, exterior and interior 3-D renderings, elevations and sections, CAD services, cost estimation, and CAD engineering.

That isn’t enough to convince Pittsford.

“I’m a 'Made in America' kind of guy,” he said.

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