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CBBC Insights: Architecture | Chinese developer launches the “Uber of the architecture world"

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CBBC Insights: Architecture
By Patrik Li
Sector Lead for Energy, Environment and Infrastructure
China-Britain Business Council
Recently a Chinese developer started to mount cryptic posters counting down the days to an event in the city of Shenzhen. Organising Apple-style events is something that Chinese tech companies have become very good at, but real estate developers tend to organise much more low-key events. So it was a surprise that the presentation of Vanke’s brand-new project, “Vanke Cloud”, felt more like an Apple Watch event than a traditional project launch.
The announcement that was made has the potential to make the market much more transparent for UK companies doing architectural design and planning in China - and it could be one of those trends coming out of China that change the dynamics of a sector almost overnight. 
So what is Vanke Cloud? Obviously the name gives away that we are talking about an online platform – one through which the company will share project information and let people connect directly and transparently with project stakeholders. But it is also a collaborative office space in which people can come together and work offline on projects. In other words, Vanke aims to become an architectural incubator and project accelerator.
But why would developers need another cloud service in a space that already has plenty of collaborative platforms? And is it really just about online collaboration?
According to Vanke, 80 per cent of architectural firms in China are located in the Tier 1 cities of Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Shenzhen, with 60 per cent of that pool concentrated in Shenzhen. Yet collaboration between different teams is often difficult, owing to lack of knowledge of the overall project and unclear specification of desired outcomes. 
Vanke’s ambition is to change this and to disrupt the real estate development market much as Uber has revolutionised the way we approach taxi transport. Vanke sees a huge opportunity to consolidate existing resources and to open up the space to new creative companies that would not have access to project resources in a traditional offline environment. So Vanke Cloud has suddenly appeared on the horizon.
The reasons for such a move are fairly obvious. In a market that is no longer growing at record pace and in which developers are faced with overcapacity, it is important for companies to come up with alternative revenue streams; or, in the case of Vanke, to find a way to streamline the development process in order to save costs. 
Vanke Cloud, currently only available in Chinese and aimed at the south of China, is open for anyone to access. On 19 September, the day it went online, the service recorded over 200 design projects worth £20 million in design fees. 
In an industry that still relies heavily on insider knowledge and opaque project tendering procedures, a platform that democratises the way people compete with, collaborate with and appraise each other certainly has the potential to create an Uber-like market disruption.
With the launch just a few days old it is still too early to say whether the cloud will succeed in achieving Vanke’s goals; but it certainly looks like a tool that will not only profit local companies, but will also allow foreign newcomers to the market to compete in a much more transparent fashion. We strongly suggest that independents and small UK companies in the architectural sector keep a close eye on the evolution of this project over the coming months. 
Vanke currently employs 40,000 people. During a recent speech at Washington University, the founder and chairman of Vanke, Wang Shi, announced his ambitions to increase the size of the company to one million (1,000,000!) employees over the next 10 years. Information about Vanke Cloud can be found here (in Chinese): http://beta.nosppp.com/
For more information, please contact the author, Patrik Li, CBBC’s sector lead for energy, environment and infrastructure in Beijing: patrik.li@cbbc.org.cn 
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