R&D Facilities Design in China

Anthony Greenwood
China is expected to be the world’s second largest pharmaceutical market by 2020, vying with the US for the number one spot.

China’s health challenges, aging population, healthcare reforms and changing regulatory landscape offer significant opportunities for multinational corporations (MNCs). Increasingly, these organisations have been moving research and development (R&D) closer to their target market, recruiting research talent from local universities as well as consolidating their R&D base. 

R&D facilities in their complexity are challenging at the best of times, but design it in China and the challenge increases significantly. These are some of the challenges specific to China:

Owner’s team has limited and/or inexperienced project resources.

Basis of design – Changes in demand, legislation and corporate strategies lead to change in end user requirements, making it difficult to finalise the design.

Designer’s capability in China

  • Local Design Institutes lean towards mass production and away from innovation.
  • Constructability and designing for health and safety are not common practice in China.
  • High staff turnover may adversely impact the design development and continuity of the concept.
  • There may be under-estimation of scope of deliverables to meet owner’s demands for multiple design options.

Local Design Institute (LDI) and design licence

Owner’s international R&D designers do not usually have the appropriate licences. The complexities of an R&D facility, together with a staged financial approval process, typically restrict procurement options, forcing owners to contract with an LDI holding appropriate class of design license. Issues arising are:

  • The design team must work together, bringing together two cultures and mindsets. Most LDIs are reluctant to relocate their team to work with international designers under one roof. Their facilities are often lacking in the necessary IT/AV and quality office space, further restricting owner’s team location options.
  • LDIs are extremely busy and frequently over-design rather than check and challenge.
  • LDIs are predominantly GB code focused (see below). The approvals and permitting system in China is complex and bureaucratic.  Operating on lump sum fees, LDIs are looking to maximize profit via code compliant design leading to speedy government approvals. Cutting edge design that challenges the GB code leads to extensive consultation and re-submissions, often in direct conflict with the LDI’s commercial objectives.
  • The LDI as the licensed entity is the only body who can approve the drawings. This is directly linked to government approvals and the issue of permits for construction and occupation. Should the LDI perform poorly, owner’s options are limited as LDI can always leverage the permitting issue.

GB Code

  • Owner’s design must be GB code compliant. The GB code is a vast document attempting a prescriptive approach for compliance.  It has many grey areas, lags behind the latest developments and technology and is open to interpretation. Government preference is for all specifications to be provided on the drawings and avoidance of product names or brand references, leaving significant gaps in the design and leading to problems in construction.
  • There may be differences between GB Code conventions and energy saving best practices from other jurisdictions.  International practice favours lower air changes to save energy, together with emphasis on prevention by Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs).


  • Cultural tendency is to say 'yes' or 'no problem' rather than 'don’t understand'.
  • Government departments will be limited in terms of spoken English.

Impact of China’s permitting and approvals

The government approvals system has stage gates based on design progress. The stage requirements do not align with international best practice; in some cases requiring too much detail too early in the design schedule and, in others, providing insufficient detail for procuring low risk bids.

Progress monitoring

  • Scope of design deliverables can increase as design develops, leading to inaccuracies in progress measurement.
  • Designers in this sector are unfamiliar with project controls methods. Often information used as the basis of their lump sum fee calculation is not resource linked to each and every deliverable.

Faithful+Gould offers significant experience in supporting delivery of successful R&D projects in China, using multi-disciplinary teams to address the issues identified above