The Evolving Role of the Nation’s Architecture Firms

Statistics compiled by the South African Council for the Architectural Profession (SACAP), in 2017, indicate that there were almost 3 860 registered architects in the country at that time. Some of these will have chosen to set up an individual one-man practice straight from varsity. However, a substantial number will have, instead, opted to join one of the nation’s many architecture firms, preferring the security of a regular income and freedom from costly overheads while, at the same time, gaining valuable work experience.

In the past, many of the world’s most iconic structures were conceived and transformed into reality by a single designer, such as Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, or Sir Christopher Wren, and were based on hand-drawn plans. Today most new buildings are the result of close collaboration between members of a team that might include designers, artists, and structural engineers, while plans are compiled on computers using sophisticated CAD/CAM software that has given modern architecture firms the ability to automatically generate multiple views, and even to produce 3-dimensional models.

It is no longer cathedrals and palaces that fill the drawing boards of this new breed of designers. Instead, their focus is on elegant and well-appointed private dwellings and commercial developments in which high-rise office blocks have replaced the towering spires and steeples of the past. Furthermore, the planners of today must focus not only on the design of a building, but also on its surroundings and the potential effects of the former upon the latter. Environmental concerns are forcing architecture firms to embrace new concepts and technologies to help reduce energy consumption and carbon emissions both during construction and upon occupation. As a result, “green” is no longer just a colour choice, but is rapidly becoming the watchword for architects and the construction industry in the quest for greater sustainability.

There are many ways in which both designers and builders can contribute to sustainability. For example, the latter can choose to employ recycled timber, metal fixtures, and stone rather than new and to rely on the strength of bamboo for reinforcement, in place of metal. In parallel, architecture firms can specify the use of photovoltaic glass and the installation of heat exchangers rather than the energy greedy conventional water heaters, and these are just a few of the many measures that could help reduce the growing carbon footprint

The price of land available for building and the cost of materials continues to rise and is forcing many residents to settle for smaller homes whilst security concerns are fuelling the demand for more gated communities. Small, however, does not have to mean cramped or ugly, and architecture firms have had to become adept at developing designs that allow them to achieve more with less.

On the commercial front, the steady growth in population experienced by most of the nation’s cities has been driving the need for more facilities, such as shopping centres. These not only need to be larger, but must also offer the convenience and aesthetic appeal that will attract sufficient customers to ensure they remain viable. It is the innovative designs and out-of-the-box thinking by the staff of a few exceptional architecture firms, such as JK Designs, that are now helping to make projects like this possible and successful.

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