Callison, one of the nation's largest architecture firms, has named Jim Rothwell as CEO.

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Callison, one of the nation’s largest architecture firms, has named Jim Rothwell as CEO.

Rothwell, whose credits including leading the Seattle-based firm’s work in the Middle East, takes over at a time when domestic construction has shriveled and work in the developing world has become increasingly important but highly competitive.

He said the firm had net revenue of roughly $90 million in the fiscal year ended Sept. 30, a sharp drop from its peak of $120 million two years earlier.

The mix has changed, too: Callison got 60 percent of its revenue from the international market and 40 percent in the U.S. this past year, while “three years ago that would have been flipped the other way around,” Rothwell said.

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Callison’s recent U.S. work includes such projects as The Bravern mixed-use complex in Bellevue and Amazon’s new corporate campus in South Lake Union. But as such big domestic projects finish up, there are few new ones in the pipeline, said Rothwell, a 26-year Callison veteran.

Overseas, demand remains strong but competing firms from the U.S. and United Kingdom have flooded into the scene, he said. Where clients “were standing in line” waiting for a globally recognized architectural firm to take their project, “it’s the exact opposite now,” he said. The competitive climate has driven down fees in international markets, he said.

He said Callison is fortunate that in China — “probably the flushest market in work right now” — the firm has been active for more than 15 years and has a well-known track record.

Bill Karst, Rothwell’s predecessor as CEO, stepped down 19 months ago to focus on the China market and is now heading a new joint venture between Callison and the Beijing architectural firm Haya.

Although worldwide revenues are down, said Rothwell, “in China we’ve actually increased our revenues.”

He predicted a modest upturn in business for 2011, saying Callison has budgeted for net revenues of $100 million. “We see the opportunity coming back — we hope sometime next year.”

Rothwell noted that “traditionally, the architect is at the tip of the spear of the construction cycle,” so even if business does turn upward for Callison, it doesn’t mean a good year for general contractors. “The year after, I think they might get back to business.”

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