ELIZABETH HAYES

Staff Reporter

For L.A. architecture firms that were opening up offices and designing projects in Asia before the financial crisis hit in 1997, the ensuing years have been a mixed bag.

Many architects say they're still working on projects planned before the Asian flu. But the pace of work has slowed, and while there are a few giant retail, hotel and office projects in the pipeline, it's nothing like the heyday of the mid-'90s.

"There hasn't been any new work in the past year," said James Porter, a partner at Altoon + Porter Architects. "We haven't expected to get new work, but we will."

Altoon + Porter designed a million-square-foot shopping center in Hong Kong, but the project has stalled. Two subway stations it designed in Singapore are under construction, along with two buildings in Taiwan.

Daniel, Mann, Johnson & Mendenhall, which was active before the crisis in Thailand, the Philippines, Indonesia, Korea, Taiwan and China, has seen its work screech to a halt in some countries though it still has more than 2 million square feet of projects underway.

"It was quite unbelievable, all the activity that was going on and you wondered what was sustaining it all. Each development group we were working for wanted to get it in the ground faster than the competition," said Paul Danna, principal at DMJM.

Despite the slowdown, many architects say there are signs of improvement.

"Last summer, a lot of the work stopped. But in the ensuing months, we have started some new projects," said David Brotman, vice chairman of RTKL Associates Inc. in Los Angeles, which is designing a museum in Shanghai, a large hotel in India, a housing development in Southern China and three mixed-used projects in Taiwan.

"I would sort of view it as work that is higher quality and more likely to get executed," Brotman said.

The projects being designed by L.A. firms tend to be large in scale in some cases small cities unto themselves. Jerde Partnership International has designed a mixed-use project in Osaka, Japan that includes an urban park that ascends eight stories from the street, a corridor in the form of a natural canyon and a million square feet of retail and entertainment.

Another Jerde project in Taipei features three chambers of contrasting shapes stacked on top of each other containing restaurants, hotels and shops. Both these projects are going forward.

Jerde, which several years ago designed the largest private-sector project in Japanese history, has $4 billion more worth of projects underway in Asia, mainly in Japan and Taipei. "Nothing's been stopped as a result of economic issues. Some things have been slowed," said Jon Jerde, chairman of Jerde Partnership.

Danna foresees a big potential for American architects to renovate buildings that were thrown up during in the "mad scramble" of the past decade.

"It has to be considered as a substantial market," he said. "You would hope development would be approached with more caution, so it doesn't take on the vicious spikes."

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