San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Int’l Architecture Firm Continues to Grow Here

In its third year operating in Costa Rica, U.S.-based architecture and design firm Gensler is transferring increasingly advanced design operations from its offices in the United States to Costa Rica, and is starting to pursue new business development opportunities in the country and across Central America.

From its offices in the western San José suburb of Escazú, Gensler Costa Rica’s staff of 25 architects, illustrators and administrative personnel divide their time between two types of activities: “insourcing” of construction plans and business development for the Central American region.

Established in San Francisco, California, in 1965, Gensler is today one of the world’s leading architecture, design and planning firms, with 3,100 employees and offices in 26 U.S. cities and five countries outside the United States. San José shares the distinction with London, Shanghai, Dubai and Tokyo of being one of only five cities outside the United States where Gensler has permanent offices.

A leader in its field, Gensler has received several major awards, including the American Institute of Architects’ architecture firm award in 2000 and the U.S. Green Building Council’s leadership award for organizational excellence in 2005.

Gensler started operations here in December 2004 with the intent of providing insourcing services for its offices in the United States. Gensler’s Costa Rican team directly assists the company’s U.S. offices in the preparation of construction documents for projects in Latin America.

In contrast to outsourcing, insourcing does not involve transferring activities to outside firms; rather, activities are transferred abroad to affiliates of the same company. By transferring part of its design operations to Costa Rica while keeping its design activities in-house, Gensler is able to produce the same quality of work at a fraction of the cost.

“Our company is very big,” explained Luis Carlos Jiménez, general manager of Gensler Costa Rica. “Big overhead generated the need to reduce costs. That was the initial reason behind opening here. Now we’re continuing the insourcing but are starting to market Gensler Costa Rica.”

Gensler Costa Rica recently assisted Gensler New York in preparing a “sustainable” master plan for a 1,300-hectare development near Playa Esterillos, on the central Pacific coast, and is currently assisting Gensler Houston in the design of a Radisson hotel in Panama.

The company is moving toward increasingly complex insourcing activities, according to Jiménez. Gensler divides project design into three phases: schematic design, which involves conceptualizing a client’s idea; design development, or giving shape to the client’s idea; and drafting construction documents – the actual plans followed by builders. When it first opened its doors, Gensler Costa Rica was exclusively geared toward designing construction plans. More recently, it has started to play a more active role in the design development phase of projects, Jiménez said.

Last April, Gensler Costa Rica began expanding its activities to include regional business development – spotting and executing profitable architecture and design opportunities here and elsewhere in Central America. The company has been involved in developing projects in the leisure, retail and corporate sectors, including clothing stores Saúl E. Méndez in Multiplaza del Este and Garper in Multiplaza Escazú and offices for companies such as ERA Real Estate, Schemactic, Desca and AEC Electrónica, among others.

Though Gensler’s operations elsewhere in the world do not work on residential projects, the Costa Rican operation does, having designed several private residences as well as a vertical condominium project in the Central Valley and a horizontal one in the northwestern province of Guanacaste.

The leisure industry, however, has proved more difficult to crack.

“It’s a market that continues to be very important, but it’s difficult to enter,” Jiménez said.

According to Jiménez, Costa Rica’s highly qualified architects, designers and illustrators were the main factor that attracted Gensler to the country.

“Costa Rica has good talent. It’s a matter of fostering it,” he said. “Human resources were definitely the main attraction for us.”

Gensler’s decision to invest in Costa Rica was the result of several years of brainstorming and planning. Jiménez said the idea behind opening an office in the country first surfaced in 1996, when he was interviewing for a position at the company’s New York offices. During the interview, Jiménez expressed to Joseph Brancato, the office’s regional managing principal, who happened to be married to a Tica, his long-term career aspiration of eventually opening a Gensler office in Costa Rica.

Aware of the country’s highly educated workforce, Brancato was very receptive to the idea, and the conversation set the ball rolling. Jiménez spent the next eight years working for Gensler, seven in New York and one in London, before returning to Costa Rica to open the company’s offices here.

Gensler Costa Rica is a satellite of the company’s New York office, Jiménez explained.

“Our entire staff is Costa Rican,” Jiménez said. “We’re committed to the country and its local talent. We want to teach them Gensler’s culture and standards. We want the (construction) documents that we produce here to have the same level as those from other company offices. We want the Costa Rican talent to have a career at Gensler, not just a job.”

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