It is ACG Architects & Development Planners' mission to offer professional services which value people and the environment, says ACG Director Malcolm Campbell
Can you please tell us more about your company?
ACG has always maintained a strong focus on development, both the development and growth of people within our organisation and the pursuit of broader development principles within our work. This is evident in our urban design and affordable housing projects, where particular care and effort has to be exercised to create spatial environments which support better communities and facilitates social and economic growth.
What do you specialise in?
Our portfolio, built up over the past 23 years, displays a wide range of competencies in a range of building types and scales. This ranges from simple affordable housing typologies to complex new hospital facilities. With respect to our architectural work, we do not consider ourselves specialists, but rather generalists, given our ability to design and manage a diverse range of projects. Our portfolio does however reveal strengths in certain areas, given the number or complexity of buildings completed, such as educational and healthcare facilities, as well as transport interchanges and institutional buildings. We are recognised nationally as specialists in Urban Design. The core focus here is on creating integrated human settlements, which include affordable and sustainable housing solutions. We have been invited to do work in this area in other African countries such as Nigeria and Tanzania. We were also invited to present our work at an international conference in India, which suggests an international acknowledgement of our profile in this area. Our practice incorporates specialist landscape architecture and interior design units. The benefits of having these specialist units is that we are able to incorporate important interior design and landscape considerations right at the inception stages of our Architectural and Urban Design work, instead of when the design has already been fully developed, which is often the case. Our Development Planning profile relates to commissions undertaken in Somalia, Eritrea, Rwanda and Sierra Leone, focusing on projects which directly link physical infrastructure development to social and economic development in quantifiable terms.
When, where and by whom was the company started?
ACG was established in 1993 when three black practitioners in Cape Town, each running small practices (doing mainly small scale domestic refurbishments) decided to pool their resources. We were inspired by the prospect of the new political dispensation of 1994, and the benefits for 'emerging’ black built environment professionals, which was in prospect at the time. We have indeed benefited substantially from the state’s affirmative procurement policies, which have afforded us the opportunity to grow, maintain a large practice and enter into successful joint ventures with established practices on very large projects, while ultimately demonstrating our ability to handle large projects independently. The current directors of the ACG, Hassan Asmal and myself, have been with ACG since its inception.
What are some of the challenges you face as one of the few black-owned architectural firms in the country?
Of the few black-owned architectural practices nationally, the largest percentage is made up of small practices, employing up to ten staff members. ACG has for many years been a medium-sized practice, with a staff complement ranging between 25 and 40 staff members. There have been very few new medium-sized black architectural practices in the 23 years since we started out. Within the architectural profession this suggests that although affirmative procurement policies have provided work for black architectural practitioners, it has not contributed to the sustainable growth of these practices. At ACG we aspire to grow into a large architectural practice, employing 60 staff members and more, but this is largely dependent on the volume and continuity of work. Like most of our fellow black built environment professionals, we have struggled to make inroads into the private sector and have had to rely substantially on public sector commissions. In recent years the public sector policy of commissioning services based on open tenders, where price is the key consideration, has limited the ability to acquire work, particularly as it is not feasible and too risky to do work below a certain margins of profitability.
Many architects have mentioned the need for sustainable and environmentally sound approaches to architecture. Do you agree with this sentiment?
Architects really don’t have a choice in this regard. We cannot continue to produce buildings which consume large amounts of non-renewable energy, which are constructed from materials whose extraction processes are harmful to the environment and are not adaptable for re-use or recycling purposes. Architects should take the lead in promoting socially and environmentally conscious practices with respect to the built environment. We are certainly well placed to do so.
South African cities, like other African cities, have witnessed rapid change in modern architecture. What are your thoughts on modern architecture in South African cities?
South African and African cities have largely been rendered dysfunctional by ‘modernist ‘ thinking in terms of physical and infrastructural planning, particularly with the emphasis placed on accommodating private vehicles and the functional separation of work from home and recreation. The ‘modernist’ dreams still compellingly guide the vision of those with economic and political power. What is needed is a more integrated approach and although there is wide-scale recognition of this among planning practitioners, progress is being held back by the seemingly intractability of certain regulations and standards.
What big opportunities are there for architects and architectural firms in South Africa?
In South Africa there is still a great need for affordable shelter, sustainable human settlements, social infrastructure facilities, the creation of integrated development hubs around strategic economic nodes and corridors. There are policies in place to enable this, and a large proportion of the national budget has been allocated to fund this. Implementation, apart from being bedevilled by chronic capacity constraints, is also being constrained by the lack of recognition of the role that Architects and Urban Design can play. For example, the housing subsidy does not make provision for the role of architects. Large human settlement projects are being rolled out by Town Planners and Engineers whose primary focus is on achieving efficiency in roads and services layouts, , with scant regard to the quality of the spatial environments created and the related community, social and economic benefits and opportunities.
Can you please mention your company's biggest successes?
Most of our work has been published in local architectural journals. Our work is also included in the Phaidon Atlas of Contemporary World Architecture and in the South African Anthology of work done under the new political dispensation in South Africa, entitled 10 + Years, 100 Buildings. We have also been the recipient of up to twenty national awards for our projects. The most recent recipient has been the new R459 million Khayelitsha Hospital in Cape Town, completed in 2012, which has garnered seven awards, including The International Property Award for the Best Public Building in the African Region.