Why Jacob Zuma’s Nkandla will give architects a bad name.

NkandlaWhy Nkandla will give architects a bad name.
During the past few weeks after the release of Thuli Madonsela’s report on South African president, Jacob Zuma’s, unduly benefit through securityupgrades at his home, the name of his architect has become synonymous with the scandal.

This architect Minenhle Makhanya has single handed caused damaged to my profession. The things that are coming to light in articles like the following http://mg.co.za/article/2014-03-27-nkandla-zuma-got-what-zuma-wanted makes me wonder whether the architect is registered with the same regulating bodies that I am, his conduct is certainly disconcerting.
One can only assume that if he is practicing as an architect he is registered with SACAP, the council for the architectural profession and as such is regulated by Act 44 of 2000 which states in section 41 that :

A person convicted of an offence in terms of section 18(2), may be liable to a fine
equal to double the remuneration received by him or her for work done in contravention
of section 18(2) or to a fine equal to the fine calculated according to the ratio determined
for three years imprisonment in terms of the Adjustment of Fines Act, 1991

I could however not find what the amount of such a fine would be but it is indeed public knowledge by now that the fees charged by the architect on the Nkandla project were in excess of R16 million, I think a fine to the value of double the remuneration would ruin the architects career in this case.

The issue of fees in the Nkandla scandal is an area that requires a bit of further explanation.

The fees that architects are ‘supposed’ to charge is regulated by SACAP (South African Council for the Architecture Profession) which in turn is called into existence by government. A proposed fee structure is published in the government gazette of which the latest one is Board notice 194 of 2011 (available at http://www.sacapsa.com/sacap/action/media/downloadFile?media_fileid=722).
And this is where it gets sticky, if government regulates the fees they are not at liberty to negotiate them down, are they? This is why architects compete furiously for government work, it comes however with the schlep of having to deal with slow payment and incompetent personnel in government.

I believe that the architects fees could have been calculated correctly.

Board notice 194 of 2011 states that a project like Nkandla, where we know that the project cost in excess of R200 million is calculated as follows:

R807 000 + 5.75% of the cost of building work (R11,5 million).

We come to a total of R12.3million very quickly. Added to this the architect can charge more for the fact that he is dealing with existing structures, that special design work such as security system design gets charged over and above the base fee, and suddenly R16 million isn’t so farfetched.

What is disconcerting is that it appears as if the architect was working for Jacob Zuma and not for the Department of Public Works (referred to as DPW hereafter). In an instance like this the end-user (Zuma) of the built work is NOT the client but the DPW is. As the DPW was paying for it they are in fact the client, they did the original scoping report and found that the security of the president was lacking. The DPW have their own set of strict guidelines that the professional team need to adhere to and as such are almost a power unto themselves, to the extent that buildings commissioned by the DPW rarely gain local municipal approval as the DPW operates at government level that dictates to local municipalities.

The fact that Zuma had a puppet master in the form of Minenhle Makhanya dictating to government departments what the end user wanted is a sad failure of the ANC government to control their own finances.

I would like to reiterate that Minenhle Makhanya has in my opinion failed architecture as a profession as it is an architect’s duty to act ethically at all times.

A voluntary association that all architects are encouraged to join, and I believe Minenhle Makhanya would be a member of, states in their code of ethics:


Members have a responsibility to serve and promote the public interest in a professional and responsible manner


Members have a responsibility to serve their clients and employers in a manner that will engender confidence and respect for the profession


If, in the course of their work on a project, become aware of a decision taken by their
employer or client which violates any law or regulation which will, in the Member’s
judgement of the finished project, materially affect adversely the safety and health of the

Advise their employer or client against the decision,

Refuse to consent to the decision, and

Unless the Member is able to cause the matter to be satisfactorily resolved by other means, report the decision to the local building inspector or other public official charged with the enforcement of the applicable laws and regulations

In light of the above mentioned, I think that the Nkandla report and blame that is currently laid before the president is one thing, the blame on the architect should not be swept under the carpet.

It would be sad if no steps were taken against the architect if it is found that the has violated any of the laws and codes that he is subjected to.

I believe in general that architects strive to act ethically and lawful but in this case we may have found an exception. One thing is for certain, this will affect the way the public view architects in South Africa forever.


Why, who, where, what and when of hiring an Architect.

There are quite a few myths and beliefs surrounding the employment of an architect that I would like to address.

Thanks to renovation and other TV shows that enlightened the public the past few years, there have been some progress but in my opinion we still have a long way to go to educate the public about the value, role and education of the Architect

First things first

It is important to look for a registered Architect in the process of finding an architect.

Professionally registered architects have to remain up to date with the latest developments in the field of architecture and you can rest assured that your architect is aware of the latest developments in the field through continued education.

The law usually offers no recourse if the architect you use is not registered and things do go South.

What value does an architect bring to your project?

Clarify and define your building needs.

Architects have the ability to examine the requirements, building site and budget and assist with the scoping of the project.

Look ahead.
Architects can look beyond your immediate requirements and then design adaptable buildings to offer you the most bang for your buck.

Manage your project.
All the way through the project from inception to final occupation, architects can act as project managers defined as part of their employment. They arrange and coordinate key project elements on behalf of the client and are the custodians of your interests, they are the gate through which all decisions should channel to ensure coordination and alignment with the initial project intention.

If your project requires engineers or other design services, the architect can coordinate this team of experts so you don’t have to. The architect sorts out complex building codes and zoning laws as part of his/her service.

The architect is supposed to visit the construction site to help verify that the project is being built according to plans and specifications.

Maximize your investment.
In most cases the cost of employment of an architect today brings big savings tomorrow.

A building designed by an educated architect, amongst several things, can minimise energy costs. Successful use of space can reduce the total area you require and a well designed building can reduce initial costs and also increase its long-term value.

See the big picture.
Architects don’t just design four walls and a roof, they create total environments both interior and exterior, that are pleasing and functional for the people who work, live and do business within them

Solve problems.
Most building projects start with a want or a need. “I need more space in office or “We’ve outgrown our house.”

But how does that need or want get translated into three-dimensional space?

That is what architects are trained to do, solve problems in creative ways. With their broad knowledge of design and construction, architects can show you alternatives and options you might never think of on
your own.

The architect can save you money. How?

The architect’s services are a wise investment, not an added cost to your project.

1. A well-conceived project can be built more efficiently and economically.

Architects plan your projects with you. As your ideas evolve, changes can be made on paper far less expensively than later on when construction is underway.

Thorough drawings also make it easier for the contractor to accurately price and build your project.

2. Because energy-efficient buildings can save you money on electricity down the road.

An architect can design a building to maximise heating from the sun and let in natural light, thus reducing your heating, cooling and electric bills

3. Because the architect helps your budget and help your selection of materials and workmanship.

The architect can help you find qualified construction contractors based on your requirements.

Architects develop the drawings and specifications to help you get bids for construction that are based on your requirements. They make sure that you get the most value in terms of finishes and luxury for the budget you have available.

Architects work to stay abreast of advances in roofing, brickwork, floor tiling, paint finishes, etc. Their familiarity with the full range of materials enables them to suggest the appropriate materials for your project.

4. Because good design sells.
A well designed building has a higher resale value. A well designed work environment attracts employees and increases productivity.

When to hire an Architect

It is useful to make an architect part of your building project very early on. As architects we have the ability to see the bigger picture while
keeping an eye on the details.

Even before procurement of land it is advisable to speak to a qualified registered architect as they can advise the client on issues such as:

  1. Zoning and Town-planning restrictions
  2. The usability and adaptability of existing structures
  3. The feasibility of the intended use.

Architects generally prefer to become part of a project very early on to be able to have input from the start and use their specific skills to solve problems before the delay or halt a project.

In most cases if an architect feels that it is a trustworthy client they are willing to dispense their advise pro-bono to help the client come to the
point where the project is a feasible endeavour

Who to hire

It is a good idea to follow some basic but strict guidelines when choosing an architect. The following general basics are some of the do’s
and don’ts of the hiring process in y opinion.

A.  Check their pedigree and previous work:
There is no point in hiring an architect that does minimalism at its best if you are interested in having an eclectic design.

Architects gravitate to work that they like and you should see some golden thread in their work, if this narrative speaks to you, you are on the right track. If you and the architect are constantly pulling in two different directions it will not be fun for either of you.

B.  Keep it real and professional:
I personally think it is a bad idea to hire friends or family members to do a design, especially if at a discounted rate.

The relationship between a client and an architect should have a flavour of fun and excitement but have the ability to become cold and clinical if it needs to.

The relationship should be open enough that your architect can tell you to your face if you are making a mistake, or if you are making decisions that are not in your own best interests. Often the backdrop of a relationship with a family member or friend clouds this openness to the detriment of the project.

I advise friends who’s friendship I value, who have asked me to do projects for them, to hire the best architect they can afford but not me. I will gladly recommend architects and even have a look at the design to make suggestions and/or critique the work but I prefer not to do work for friends or relatives anymore.

I find it easy to source more clients but difficult to source more real friendships not to mention family relations.

C.  Make sure the process is positive.
In broad terms there are two processes in constructing a building, there is the designing part, and then the building part. The ‘vibe’ of the first has a massive impact on the ‘vibe’ of the second.

If the design process is engaging and fun, for both client and architect, it is generally a good design that addresses the clients requirements to the full with the best coming to the fore from the architect.

On the other hand if the process is filled with conflict over timely payment or lack of information,  you can be sure that this will carry through into the construction and eventually the use and experience of the building.

The public easily criticize architects for poor architecture, my general motto is: Good Clients make Good buildings

Where to hire an Architect

For the purpose of this blog we will consider the where, as a question of geographical location.

In my opinion the architect needs to be close to the project during construction and accessible  to the client during the design process.

You and the architect need not share a lot of time together for the design to be good but it is imperative that the architect and the site need to spend some time in each others’ company prior to their design and during construction.

I prefer to see my clients on a regular interval during the refinement of the design, I have learned the hard way that if you don’t spend time on
the site during construction, the quality is never exactly what you expected it to be.

If you as the client and the project site are geographically separated, my suggestion is to hire an architect close to the project or make sure the architect is keen on visiting the project on regular intervals.

What to hire an architect for (in terms of use and size)

In most countries there are strict laws as to what kind of projects require an architect. I think that even in instances where an architect is not compulsory due to the size or complexity it is still a good idea to make use of their services.

In general it is a good idea to try and match the size of your project with an architect that has done similar or slightly smaller work. This allows you the peace of mind that they have the capacity to deliver on your project and at least have similar experience.

Speaking to an Architect is useful on even the smallest renovations, they can add value in the form of structural knowledge, aesthetic considerations and just overall sound-boarding with a professional that may open your mind to possibilities that you never would have considered.

If the architect is not required by law for a specific aspect they would probably consider divulging their advice and expertise at a reduced rate or possibly even for free.

It is important to realise that the training of an architect at a professional level is equivalent in time to that of a doctor or a lawyer. They can assist you in bringing your dreams into reality by giving you what you need in a way that you possibly did not even deem possible.


The phrase “Trust me, I’m an architect” has become cliché and is now printed on T-shirts the world over but more often than not, architects say it because we believe really we can add value. I want the best for my clients in the experience of working with me, and the experience of my design and I believe most architects are the same.

Drawing the perfect revision cloud.

While I was revising a drawing for a builder today I realised that I had drawn the same revision cloud in the same place at least four times to make sure it is just right. This being the equivalent to a teacher making the same correct tick four times to make sure it looks just right or a post office worker stamping the same document four times to make sure that the stamp falls on the page just right.

I think the reason that I fuss about these things has to do with the mentor I had just a short while ago. If someone scrutinizes your drawing work with a red pen (or in his case always a politically correct green pen), it teaches you something about yourself. You find that you constantly miss certain things and never miss others, you tend to get almost everything right on a project that you enjoy and a project that you don’t enjoy is usually I little more difficult.

The art of producing good quality drawings is not something that just happens, it has little to to with which software or 3D modelling program you use but has a lot to do with the way you view the world and your place in it.

I think that often a set of architectural drawings, documenting a building design, speaks about who and where you were at the time, what you were feeling about the design, how the client was influencing the process and who else had input in the process.

Architecture is one off the most unquantifiable endeavors of man, for example: Lets say I told you that in 21 days time the earth would be destroyed and you had the responsibility of saving 10 good pieces of architecture.

Irrespective of what you may choose as worthy pieces, the question remains, what would you save?

Is architecture the brick and mortar and would it be worth saving the Parthenon without the hill that it was built upon? Would you run and measure to document the living daylights out of Falling Waters by Frank Lloyd Wright without being able to preserve the sound of the waterfall underneath it echoing through it? I can go on and on but I think you catch my drift, what I am really saying is that you cannot bottle architecture, you cant package it, you cant take it away from itself and say it is still architecture.

It is always a number of things together, it is the client, the builder, the engineer, the user, the site, the climate, the budget, the architect and then last but not least the revision cloud upon revision cloud on drawing after drawing of a building that could have been, should have been and may have been, and never is exactly how it is intended all caught in one glimpse as a snapshot of all of these and none of these all at once. This , I believe, is architecture…..