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Before 1979's economic reforms, all architectural design activities were monopolized and managed by state-owned Local Design Institutes (LDI's). In socialist China and its planned economy, design, planning and construction, as a service, needed to be delivered to the masses and executed by state-owned practices. With the economic reforms of 80s, and consequent construction boom seen from the 90s onwards, this system was transformed drastically: LDI's were pushed to reform and private investment was allowed to enter the market.

Now, although LDI is still dominating the architecture market, there is a growing amount of private firms, mostly established by architects that returned after studying/working abroad (operating mainly from Beijing and Shanghai). Small-scale studios (maximum 30 person-staff) are mainly working in the cultural sector, as they push the boundaries of architecture design. They work on smaller commissions, knowing that more than 90% of the architectural design in Chinese cities (large-scale housing, public infrastructure, commercial/service buildings) is taken over by construction companies and real-estate developers dealing directly with bigger LDI’s. This new generation often acts as mediators, international market principles with Chinese conditions, making Sino-foreign partnerships easier.