Architecture: Challenges abound

Architects work in a challenging environment. With fewer than 4 000 registered architects in the country—compared with Egypt’s 14 000—questions may well be asked about the future of the profession.

Architects, as designers of the space we live in every day, have the ability to create a “new” South Africa—setting in stone, glass and concrete—the tone for the country’s future.

The new National Library in Pretoria is an example; it is a landmark of knowledge and, in architectural terms, it has also revived the city centre.

Jeremie Malan, managing partner of Jeremie Malan Architects and designer of the building, says one of the biggest challenges that faces the profession in South Africa is capacity.

“We have excellent training facilities, but year after year only about 50 new architects are added to our numbers.
This is not even enough to supply firms to enable them to fulfil BEE requirements. We need many more professionally trained people. Unfortunately, only about half of the qualified young people end up in architectural firms in South Africa. Those who left us with the first rumbles of the brain drain would have been today’s middle-management layer, which means we simply do not have the right number of qualified people in all the necessary segments to do the job,” Malan says.

Another factor affecting architectural firms is the tendency for clients to appoint outside project management consultants. This seems to be due to a lack of understanding of the way in which architectural projects are handled.

“We have no problem with this, but due to the nature of our involvement in a building project, we have to manage the project anyway. This can lead to overlap and potentially lead to unnecessary problems such as miscommunication,” he says.

Malan says the new Occupational Safety and Health Act requirements had a positive effect on the safety profile of building sites. “In the four years of building the National Library only two small incidents resulting in minor injuries took place. This is something we are proud of. Any building site is potentially dangerous, so safety is an important consideration.”

He says “work at risk” and fee scales are challenges that face architectural professionals.

The South African Council for the Architectural Profession includes architectural technologists and draughts people, which the previous legislation excluded. The council agrees that the biggest challenge facing the profession is capacity and it is involved in all layers of training and education and all aspects of building the professional conduct of its members. 

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