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A glance at the various architectural structures in South Africa reveals the diverse and turbulent past of the country. Indigenous clans, colonisation, wars, apartheid, and the reconciliation of a post-apartheid country have all influenced our architecture. From the simple 'rondavels' of the Xhosa tribes to the Rhodes Memorial in Cape Town (which looks like it should belong in ancient Rome), architecture in South Africa has helped to conquer, divide, connect and heal the various generations.  

This is also true of the various residential structures scattered all over the country, which encompass a myriad of design styles such as modern, rustic, colonial, and Scandinavian.

What are the general services that architects in South Africa offer?

An architect is responsible for designing a range of structures in various fields, including houses and apartment buildings, shopping malls, hospitals, schools, and commercial buildings. This may include anything from drawing up the plans for building a brand new structure or renovating an existing building or space, like a kitchen.  

An architect also takes into consideration the safety factor in the design of a building (in terms of materials used, the location of the structure, presence of fire exits, etc.), ensuring the final structure is practical and safe for people.

While some architects work across a range of projects of different types and scales (generalists), others specialise in one area, such as residential or educational.

The typical work activities of an architect include:

  • Generating detailed drawings of a building, both by hand and by using specialist computer-aided designer (CAD) applications.
  • Communicating with construction professionals about potential projects.
  • Taking constraining factors into consideration, such as town planning legislation, environmental impact, and budget.
  • Working with other professionals such as building service engineers, construction managers, etc.
  • Writing and presenting reports, proposals and contracts.
  • Adapting architectural plans according to circumstances and resolving any possible problems that may occur during the project.
  • Playing a part in project- and team management.
  • Travelling to building sites, proposed locations, and client meetings.

Keep in mind that any person in South Africa providing services of an architectural nature must be registered with the South African Council for the Architectural Profession (SACAP).

When do you need an architect? What are the advantages of having an architect?

If you want to build a new house / building, or make alterations / additions to an existing house or building, then you need a professional architect.

The advantages of using a professional architect are aplenty and include:

  • Ending up with a product that is structurally safe, and professionally designed and built
  • Being privy to working with other professionals on the project, since architects have various contacts in the building industry (such as builders, structural engineers, floorers, roofers, interior designers, etc.)
  • Having the architect's eye for detail scope out the entire project while it's being drawn up and, thus, eliminating unnecessary (and costly) mistakes from the start
  • Knowing that your project lawfully abides by the necessary rules and regulations, as all architects are subject to a statutory code of practice and have Professional Indemnity Insurance for their clients.

How to find/select the right architectural professional?

Clients usually appoint an architect whose work they admire or who has been recommended to them. Thanks to homify, you already have an ever-expanding list of architects to peruse. Conveniently grouped in various categories (South African cities), homify presents an array of architects and other professionals. Where possible, we also provide additional data on each one, such as information and images of past projects, and customer reviews.

It is recommended to contact each architectural firm whose work you admire to set up an initial meeting (bear in mind that some firms may charge a fee for this, so be sure to ask). A meeting is important to see if their skills and services match up with your building requirements, to discuss budget and time constraints, etc.

When contacting a firm, describe your project and ask if they are available. Request information that can help to outline the firm's qualifications and experience. Apart from visiting their website, you can also ask for a portfolio of their work, or even visit one of their finished buildings.

It is important to ensure you are compatible with your architect, as you will be entering into a working relationship with them. Your architect must also convince you of their creativity and their ability to accomplish a task within budget and on time.

What will it cost to hire an architect?

The final cost of building a structure is dependent on many factors, including quality of finishes, location, and the size of the project. For instance, while it is possible to build a low-cost house for under R5,000, it can also be accomplished for more than R20,000 per m².  

There are four common ways in which South African architects calculate their service fees:

  1. Project cost-based. The architect takes a client's budget and calculates their fee using the latest scale recommended by the SACAP. Note that some architects may not use this method for fee calculation and simply apply their own percentage fee. In these cases, their fee will usually range between 6 – 18% of the construction budget.
  2. Time-based. In cases where the scope is not well defined, clients are often charged an hourly rate. Although clients are often surprised by how much time architects spend on a project, they can control the number of hours worked on said project by setting a 'cap' on the amount which can be billed in total.
  3. Square metre rate-based. Some architects charge by the square metre, usually for projects focused on alterations and additions. Keep in mind that the costs can vary greatly from one firm to another, as one architect can charge R100/m² and another R1000/m².
  4. Combination of time and project cost-based. A time-based fee is applied early on in the project so that its scope and concept design can be determined. For the latter stages of the project, a cost-based fee is charged. Smaller to medium-sized architectural firms are usually more flexible when structuring their fees and when it comes to a mixed arrangement of time-based and project cost-based structure.
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