Big thinking for smaller firms

How can small to medium practices tackle large projects? 

A large project that is not managed properly can be devastating for a company, but Roelof Rabe, director of Roelof Rabe Argitekte, believes that big and small can compete. He cautions, however, that there are some key criteria to consider other than size, giving some key points to illustrate his point.  

Three B’s 

Rabe promotes the three B’s of design – it must be beautiful, buildable and in the budget. According to Roelof, there is no substitute for good design. 


The client should deal with the same person throughout the project, especially the project lead. A core team that stays on the project throughout ensures a deep understanding of the requirements and enhances the client’s experience. 


Keep delivering the same professional service to the client, even when the lead is not available, or other issues arise. It is important for a smaller company to deliver a similar service as what may be expected from a larger business. 

In some cases, it may make sense to appoint a project manager, freeing up time in a smaller firm to focus on design. 

Personal service 

When working with a smaller firm, the client is more likely to be dealing with the owner, someone who has “skin in the game”. The advantage is that processes and decision-making may be quicker for a more personal and agile service than with a larger company. 

Big thinking for smaller firms

Roelof Rabe, director of Roelof Rabe Argitekte.

Knowledge and technology 

Technical knowledge of the built environment is vital. A small group of specialists, rather than a larger team of average professionals, has immense value in highly technical work such as building detailing. 

Small companies must move with technology. Building Information Modelling (BIM) and the necessary plug-ins are essential to cope with the massive shift in complexity of building design. “There are technical advances inside the building, the human needs are becoming more complex, the human reaction to it and vice versa,” Rabe explains. 


Being appointed for a large project is fantastic, but keep in mind what happens once it is completed. “Keep marketing,” advises Rabe. “It can be tricky to run two or more projects as a smaller team, but you can hire people for this. It’s important not to lose momentum.” 

Working on a large project requires increased technology and training. This can be costly with the exchange rate from South African rands to the dollar, but a financier can help handle the longer-term investment needed. 

Place in the sun 

Skills and the infrastructure to complete the project should be key considerations for any firm, regardless of its size, when contemplating large, complex projects with R500 million to R1,5 billion of construction costs. 

Rabe contends that a proven track-record, over a number of years, of medium-sized projects successfully completed on time and in the budget, are good indications that a smaller firm with the right people, attitude and tools could take on bigger projects. 

Should the size of the architectural firm be selected according to the size or complexity of the project, or is there space for everyone to compete? 


For more information contact, Roelof Rabe Argitekte: 

Tel: +27 21 914 1690 



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