DESIGN DYNAMICS

Tunde Ojo-Aromokudu, director, Prosite Plan Africa

Q: Your firm specialises in design in rural areas. How did that come about?
A: Our roots are in rural communities. We began operating 14 years ago as an architectural and project-management business in the town of Ulundi in KZN. This history not only made us sensitive to the needs of the communities we design for but it is key to our success. It has manifested in our taking end-user involvement from inception very seriously to ensure project objectives are met. Due to the many levels of approvals needed throughout a project’s lifespan, our client engagement – with a full team complement inclusive of LEED consultants – ensures standards are met, irrespective of project sophistication. This ethos has helped us expand to working in four provinces, with projects in five African nations. As an ISO-certified practice, we ensure our offerings meet the expectations of our clients, irrespective of location, needs and budget.

Q: The company also specialises in government contracts. Does this require a particular mindset?
A: It pretty much requires the same approach taken with private-sector projects but it does depend on how well-structured the client is in respect to project processes and their own internal capacity. It is important to ensure you have the requisite capacity before taking on government projects as the contracting method explored by most government departments is such that the risk in implementation is brought down to the barest minimum. You have to know your strengths and promise only what you can deliver on, and follow through with that. Ultimately the key is to understand who the major stakeholders are, and plan for all of them holistically.

Q: Are there any specific trends prevalent in the governmental design space?
A: The current trend is open competition. Hence it is crucial, as an architect entering the government tendering process, to comprehensively understand not just the client’s requirements but also the end-user’s. If you don’t understand that value, there is no worth.

While most government projects now require energy-efficiency and greening initiatives, emerging trends range from sector to sector. Requirements may appear simple to implement but the context could introduce a different dynamic that the client may not fully comprehend. Specifically in the education sector, the directive is to meet basic norms and standards to ensure appropriate facilities are prepared for learners.

Q: You’ve recently moved into other types of work. How has that changed your focus?
A: Our emphasis in the past was strictly governmental, but the shift started five years ago when we began undertaking work for parastatals. That led us into the commercial, residential, industrial, hospitality, education, recreation and healthcare sectors nationally and internationally, yielding interesting results.

Commercial clients are ultimately about the bottom line, so delivery is key. You therefore have to be absolutely clear about your organisational competencies and capacity before making any commitments.

All sectors have peculiarities that are exciting, and this has moulded Prosite’s ethos to remain relevant across a variety of contexts as we continuously polish our skills to service all architectural and project-management needs, especially those of private individuals who have a different approach to architecture and interior design.

Q: How has winning the 2018 ACQ Global Construction Company of the Year award impacted the firm?
A: I was not personally aware we were in the running until late in the selection process, so winning was received with amazement and pride. Knowing that our results are recognised at a national level allows us to ramp up our already-high professionalism so we can continue to seek new opportunities and service our international clients better. It is certain ACQ considered our 150-unit rental stock housing development in KZN for the Department of Human Settlements, which was featured at the 25th International Union of Architects World Congress, hosted in Durban, in 2014. Another project [an A-Grade office building upgrade], in the Richards Bay industrial development zone (RBIDZ), was likely also considered in the evaluation for the award.

Q: What were the primary challenges of the RBIDZ contract?
A: The brownfield project required a strong team from inception. There were no existing building plans so we initially had to determine the building’s ‘state of health’ by performing a due diligence exercise. One of our challenges was the client’s financial strain from prolonged rental in their then-current premises, so the turnaround demands were six months for planning and construction in three.

We advised our client to procure items directly with a long lead; seek a contractor with a pedigree and who is locally based; and secure buy-in from the City of uMhlathuze for necessary plans approval to speed up the process.

We survived many challenges, among them a change of scope after site handover, and surprises that come from working with dated buildings. The opportunity to pursue a Green Star rating was also not welcomed by the client, given the time constraints, so it was a trade-off in favour of taking occupation of the building.

By Kerry Dimmer
Illustration: Janine Petzer

Article written by