Japanese projects help RTKL weather U.S. slump CUSHIONING THE BLOW

October 15, 1990|By Michelle Singletary | Michelle Singletary,Evening Sun Staff

TOKYO -- For the Kajima Corp. the job of selecting an architectural firm to design a luxury hotel that will overlook Tokyo Bay was a matter of choosing a brand name company.

In Japan, businesses, like many Japanese consumers, trust a reputation. The general rule: no bargain hunting, just designer names please.

In the case of the Manhattan Hotel, a new 180-room business hotel to be built in the new Japanese town of Makuhari, that meant selecting RTKL Associates Inc. to serve as design architect.

"They were a well-established firm," said Fumihiko Toyoda, chief architect in the administration department of Kajima's architectural design division.

The Baltimore-based RTKL has earned a reputation with Japanese firms that has resulted in the firm being selected for more than a dozen projects. In fact, RTKL has enough design and consulting work in Japan to take it into the next century.

According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, RTKL is doing more work in Japan than any other American architecture firm. Some of RTKL's other projects include an outdoor waterpark and several retail centers.

In the last few years, Harold Adams, RTKL's Chief Executive Officer, says the firm has seen its overseas business increase from 5 percent to an expected 20 percent this year.

That amount of international business has helped RTKL weather the current building slowdown in this country.

"It has filled in in places as we begin to feel the slump like everyone else," Adams said from the firm's Pratt Street headquarters.

Although the international marketplace is also experiencing a slight slowdown in development because of the gulf crisis and a sharp drop in the stock market in Japan, it's still a lucrative market capable of helping the company keep profits strong, he said.

"Our international efforts are just part of the diversity we've created," Adams said. "Historically, the building industry goes through recessions. We've worked hard to design a firm that is as recession-proof as possible. I don't think anyone is but we try to keep the peaks and valleys as even as possible."

Adams modestly says RTKL's international success can be attributed to a combination of luck and its quality work.

With an eye on increasing that 20 percent to 30 percent, Adams said RTKL recently opened an office in Tokyo's famous Roppongi district, the firm's second office overseas. Last spring, it opened an office in London. While RTKL has always sent personnel to Japan to work on various projects, it has not maintained an office there until now.

"We have stepped up more of our marketing activity," Adams said. "We have only scratched the surface There are so many opportunities in Japan, it's incredible."

Adams said the opportunities lie in the mixed-use complexes and retail projects. Changes in zoning laws mean shopping malls are no longer prohibited.

RTKL will use the Tokyo office to follow up on business leads and to market themselves more in the Japanese way -- through introductions.

"Don't think you can go to Japan and just say, 'Here I am.' You have to be introduced and have a reputation of having delivered," he said.

Kajima, based in Tokyo, has also hired RTKL to do the land planning and architectural design work for its Nasu Chiburi Lake Resort, which includes a 100-room hotel, an 18-hole golf course, clubhouse and baths, private cottages and 200 condominium units.

"As architects we know only the name . . .," Toyoda said. "RTKL is a very big name in this world."

In fact, RTKL was ranked as the nation's 5th largest architect/engineer firm by Building Design & Construction magazine in its 1990 annual survey of America's largest building designers and construction managers.

RTKL was reported as having $56.26 million in commercial, industrial and institutional projects last year in the U.S.

With more than 16,000 employees, Kajima is Tokyo's second largest design and construction firm. Last year, the company reported $9.3 billion in revenues and $152 million in net income.

Currently, Kajima has more than 50 project offices in some 20 foreign countries manned by a staff of 300. The company also maintains two regional headquarters -- in Singapore and London. In addition, Kajima has overseas subsidiaries and joint ventures in the U.S. as well as Indonesia, Thailand, China, West Germany and Australia.

Kajima Development Corp. of Los Angles, a development subsidiary, is the joint venture partner with the New York-based Harlan Co. which is building Commerce Place, a 30-story office tower in downtown Baltimore scheduled to be completed in the Spring 1992. Kajima's New Jersey subsidiary is the general contractor for the Commerce Place project.

As with most relationships in Japan, business or personal, the Kajima/RTKL joint ventures began with an introduction.

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