Afrisam recently hosted a webinar to discuss the impact of COVID-19 on sustainability and the built environment. Dr Philippa Tumubweinee from the School of Architecture, Planning and Geomatics at the University of Cape Town talked to President of the South African Institute of Architects (SAIA), Dr Luyanda Mpahlwa, about the changing role of architects and the pandemic’s devastating effect on the commercial property market.
Architects need to reclaim their space
Luyanda says that the built environment has been hit hard by the impact of Covid-19 on the economy, worsening a situation which existed prior to the outbreak of the pandemic. Architects in particular find themselves worse off due them not having a seat at the table and therefore not being part of the important conversations that need to take place in South Africa’s built environment. In recognition of this, and to improve the situation, the South African Institute of Architects joined the alliance of built environment stakeholders who formed the Covid-19 Rapid Response Team, made up of about 36 organisations who have been engaging with Government on matters affecting the construction industry.
“We recognised the we do not occupy the space we deserve as the architectural profession. The broader construction sector and our colleagues such as engineers, for example, have made themselves to heard and have succeeded in making their voice count at important discussions affecting the construction sector. This was also evident at the launch of the South Africa Investment Plan by the President on the 23rd June 2020 where Architects were not part of any of the Panel discussions taking place. As architects, we need to ask ourselves how we can regain a similar space in the sector,” comments Luyanda.
“The Institute of Architects is an integral part of the built environment sector and efforts are being made to position the profession as strategic thinkers who are able to understand the complexity of the built environment in its entirety.
“We are an essential part of the conversation which seeks solutions which our cities, developers and people need. Architects can’t be seen as a luxury or being peripheral on projects because we’re much more than designers. We are key composers of the built environment, which is why we need to be an integral part of the discourse,” says Luyanda.
He adds that there is a discussion whether architects as a community have allowed themselves to be side-lined, and how this can be changed. “We see ourselves as being involved in a very specific aspect of the design of buildings, which is not the correct perception. Architects are integral part of the entire value chain of the construction sector and have a comprehensive understanding of the building processes. The role of Principal Agent has also shifted away from the Architects in recent years. Yet Architects have valuable contributions to make towards various policies and towards the academic space as well, in Universities, where Architects are produced. To ensure that society and our clients understand the role that Architects should be playing, we need to be at the centre of public discourse. We need to convince society that we need to be part of the process of finding solutions – we’re not just qualified to draw plans.”
What’s going to happen to all the commercial property?
Before COVID-19, working from home was a luxury afforded to a minority of professionals and gig workers. In their latest Rode Report on the South African Property Market, property economists Rode & Associates warn that the pandemic may advance the trend of working from home (Q2: 2020).
“Companies may reduce their required [office] space as more employees work from home on a permanent basis, leading to a prolonged oversupplied market,” Kobus Lamprecht, head of research at Rode & Associates, notes in the report.
When asked what he thinks will happen to all the office space, Luyanda said that COVID-19 isn’t killing the commercial property market, rather it’s accelerating a much-needed change within our cities.
“In South Africa, the median-income young professional or middle-wage earning family can’t afford to live in the city. It’s common for people in South African cities to live 40km from where they work and drive back and forth from home to work every day, clogging the roads in a country where pubic transport is neither safe nor adequate. Maybe, once the pandemic has passed, we will see many of the existing office spaces being transformed into residential units instead. In the future, it’s possible that work and home won’t be quite such distinct places anymore. In our new society, we will have to accept that the separation between work and home will become less and less. This – along with a greater provision for affordable housing in cities – will be steps in the right direction for our local cities, and this change has to be accelerated” concluded Luyanda.
For more information, visit Afrisam on www.afrisam.co.za.
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