Professional architects make a living by generating, distributing and controlling specialist information – the information required to cause buildings to be erected by contractors. Traditionally this information has been sold to the end user (the building owner or developer) as a service or series of services. Additionally the architect is generally required to be in close physical proximity to the building site or have the ability to visit it regularly. Traditional (colonial) architectural services delivery is deeply rooted in the classical analogue world and has not adapted well to the workings of a digital global society resulting in the severe limitation of the architect’s ability to be competitive, relevant and useful to society.
Only around 8% of South Africa’s buildings are designed by professional architects. The other 92% are designed by technologists, building designers, the owners themselves or are not designed at all. When we consider that Africa is urbanising at a rate of knots at the same time as the mainstream economy is tanking in most African countries it makes sense to shift focus from the 8% to the 92%.
For self preservation reasons if nothing else.
The traditional (and legislated) approach to architectural services delivery has always framed the architect as an out of reach commodity to the majority of the population – a profession which exists exclusively for the economic elite; the governments, corporations and wealthy individuals that can afford to build and own buildings of architectural significance.
This system works well for the economic elites. An over supply of architectural professionals is good for business for the elites as it drives costs down and pushes up profits. During periods of negative growth, such as the one we are experiencing at the moment in most African countries, very few large buildings are erected and most professional architects, self employed and salaried alike, are facing a serious crisis in terms of new work acquisition. The COVID proposition and all its offshoots has further depressed what was already a moribund industry to a point where recovery, even partial, is no longer a possibility in the short term.
Architects continue to leave the profession to find gainful employment in other sectors. Building companies shut down one after the other because the cost of being in business is simply too high and the rewards too low. As the size and influence of the profession shrinks so the size of our cities grows ever faster and ever bigger – as does the population’s responsive ability to mobilise and rely on self-help solutions; to build without architects, authorities or contractors.
As the COVID economy continues to shut down business after business so more and more buildings become empty of tenants and ultimately become uneconomical to maintain. There is now little need for new buildings of the type typically designed by professional architects. The real need is at a completely different scale, looks completely different and is commonly found in that demographic which cannot afford to pay traditional architectural fees.
The practice of architecture lends itself perfectly to digital systems integration and remote practice methods – across all work stages.
Consider the following;
1. Work Acquisition: Today the architect is more likely to acquire work through online systems than physical networking. The architect’s online network has no reach limitations whilst physical networks continue to shrink, as do their lifespans.
2. Client Interaction: Increasingly, online meetings and webinars have become the preferred means of personal communication and interaction. Online interaction is economic, functional and practical – and is now available to just about everyone on the planet.
3. Site Investigation: Site visits and locale investigations have become an increasingly unnecessary with the availability of digital media, drone footage and Google apps. All information pertinent to a site can be gathered digitally and online.
4. Design, Development & Documentation: It is unlikely that any architects still produce documentation manually beyond concept sketches and diagrams. All systems, from concept presentation to production documentation, are now fully digital and therefore produce digital outcomes which can be easily distributed online.
5. Contract Administration & Building Supervision: These practice systems require a localised physical presence and cannot be completely deployed digitally except for minor works. In remote projects of significant scale they are best contracted out to a quantity surveyor or project manager if travel to site is uneconomic or unreliable.
Hence we see that today’s architect not only has the ability to reach an infinite market he/she also has the ability to deliver 80-100% of his/her services from a remote location, structured and priced for a particular sector of the economy without ever having to meet the client – or even know who the client is, for that matter.
Many progressive architects, designers and technologists in Africa have already adjusted to the digital reality which dominates today’s mainstream economy and which will shape all future human interaction. For this built environment design community the next step in the process of digital transformation is the implementation of a methodology with which to deploy these concepts for profit, growth and social impact.
To this end Architect Africa will design, build, host and administer a Digital Design Marketplace (DDM) on its primary domain https://architectafrica.com for the promotion, distribution and sale of Remote Architectural Services Packs (RASP) to the public. The traditional news and information functions of the site have been simplified and moved to a dedicated server on the secondary domain https://apex.architectafrica.com, intended to be primarily used by remote service providers active on the primary domain.