ARCHITECTURE

Expressing Values

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The famous international architect and mastermind behind some of the world’s most iconic buildings, Sir Norman Foster, once said: “Architecture is an expression of values – the way we build is a reflection of the way we live. This is why vernacular traditions and the historical layers of a city are so fascinating, as every era produces its own vocabulary. Sometimes we have to explore the past to find inspiration for the future. At its most noble, architecture is the embodiment of our civic values.” He also said that it is architecture is a connection with the past.

If this is indeed the case, we need to ask ourselves whether, in the architecture industry, we have done enough to express our unique South African values—and whether we are indeed connecting to the country’s past—and future.

Looking at transformation in this traditionally white male dominated industry, it is not just the question of BBBEE that we need to address, we also have to seriously consider ways to include and introduce more women in senior levels of the profession—and create platforms for the fairer sex to reach the top of their careers, Nompumelelo Nzuza, Director of Nzuza Architects, a 100% female black owned predevelopment and development consultancy, told BBQ in an exclusive interview.

Can you brief us about the profession of architecture in the South African context—with specific references to BEE?

Architecture is a male dominated industry. In SA we have the added affliction of it also being a predominantly white male dominated industry, with very little transformation having taken place in the past 22 years.

Can you tell us about the biggest challenges currently facing black architects and black-owned architecture firms, especially from a woman’s point of view—in SA?

According to SACAP in SA, Women make up 20% of the number of registered Architectural professionals, while the number of registered PDI women makes up only 3%. This unacceptably low number has not been addresses before by the regulating bodies.

What are the biggest changes or developments in your industry, if any, since the dawn of our democracy?

Not much transformation has taken place in SA over the past 22 years. We are not seeing many women starting up their own companies, especially black women. The transformation I have observed is more within management positions, however the reigns and ‘shareholdership’ is still in the hands of white males. You have companies either ‘fronting’, or women who end up in the employ of companies as they are limited in their studies. They do not continue to attain their the professional registration.

I have also noted that women in the built-environment have increased over the last 10 years, but not in the architectural space. The engineering fraternity has made great strides in issuing bursaries for black females in the past—we see that now in the numbers that have grown.

What more need to be done to transform the business world of black female architects?

Programmes directed at true empowerment for women in architecture needs to be set in place, such as the one launched last year (WAiSA). These need to be strategic, and unapologetic in their mandate and execution policy, and most importantly supported by work set-aside specifically for women. It is time to stop the lip service.

What role should academic institutions play to contribute to transformation in architecture? Are they actually doing enough—if no, what more can they do?

Our institutions have a huge role to play. The lecturers view has too much influence on your marks, confidence, and ability to continue on your path to become a professional architect. The lecturers have a very squid view of what architecture in SA should be. Design is one of your majors, which is marked based on based largely on the lecturers and external examiners view. You can be failed on a very well researched design, but because it does not agree on their preconceived views. We can start by desisting to tell our black students to stop taking politically driven projects into their Masters thesis and PhD dissertations. Far too many times, you have lectures and examiners, asking black students to ‘water down’ their topics, siting them as ‘too political’. We seem to have forgotten that architecture is an expression of our environment, a living and functional, and expressive art form. In too many cases in academic institutions, and as a PDI, you have to work twice as hard, without enough, if any support. We need to support these students- in all ways possible.

What contribution has both the government and private sector made thus far regarding transformation of women in your sector; and what more do they need to do to bring about more change?

Government has worked on putting in place BBEEE regulations, which I have observed being manipulated by non-compliant firms who are not interested in transformation. There has been only one non-compliant company I have willingly partnered with, that seems to understand the need to transform. There are very few of these out there. Government does not monitor these projects; hence ‘fronting’ thrives- through expense loading of projects (non-compliant firms place an exorbitant number of personnel and other expenses on the project, that there are very little profits to split at the end of the end), which cripples black entrepreneurs-hands on monitoring is required by qualified personnel. If a body existed, independent of government, one might see the very well intended policies making a greater difference.

Can you please highlight your company’s biggest success that you view as ground breaking— and that could possibly be seen as a milestone in transformation in SA?

We have been able to gain the trust of our clients, and as a result have been able to source ‘return clients’. This is a great success for us- confirming that we produce good work. Black entrepreneur developers, private individuals and business people are propelling Nzuza Architects transformation. They have been the life-blood of my company. This dispels the concept that black professionals do not support each other. My firm is proof. My clientele is currently made up of 80% PDI run private companies. This is the transformation I am experiencing, this is an integral part of transformation.

What is your take on BBBEE in your industry?

The application of BBBEE needs to be applied strictly, and monitored closely- About five years ago, Limpopo used to identify black female qualified consultants as per the BBBEE requirements. This is no longer the case. Many women end up going into other streams of the field in order to gain larger opportunities, because they identify greater opportunity to make money- simply because the seems to be a diminished value in running your own firm- as the support and opportunities available are few and far between (women qualified- their services are being bought, availing easy comfortable routes). Fronting is very damaging, it continues undermine our progress and will continue to do so, ensuring that we make no tangible progress in transforming. If Africa was the Garden of Eden, then fronting is a weed—that needs to be plucked out, painstakingly—one root at a time.

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