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International built environment professionals impressed by skills in South Africa


Aurecon's Century City office in Cape Town

12 June 2012 - Aurecon’s Competency Leaders are tasked with ensuring their teams collaborate globally to share best-of-breed skills in the different industries and geographies in which the company operates. Further, they are tasked with understanding the needs of the group’s clients and responding accordingly. The result is a winning combination of resources to enhance every project the group works on, regardless of location.

Three of Aurecon’s Competency Leaders visited South Africa recently, and in this round table interview, comment on their first impressions of our built environment locally, including the areas in which they believe South Africa is keeping pace with international trends, the cutting edge thinking which the group is applying locally and novel thinking around skills development.

  • Stephen Logan - Competency Leader, Building Sciences
  • Peter Greaves - Competency Leader, Building Services
  • Benjamin Coxon - Competency Leader, Building Structures

Having spent time in RSA recently, which international trends do you believe we are keeping pace with?

A leader in the sustainability race
Peter: South Africa is increasingly being seen by the international community as a leader in Green Star buildings and a country which is actively promoting sustainability within its built environment on a number of levels, including a strong drive by both the public and private sectors to achieve optimum efficiency.

Particularly encouraging is that fact that many of South Africa’s major centers, including Cape Town, Johannesburg, Durban and Tshwane, boast showcase Green Star SA buildings, which is evidence that people are willing to spend money on ensuring they occupy more sustainable workplaces. There is a real sense of the fact that this sort of investment offers ample paybacks.

Creating unified places
Benjamin: When one visits South Africa, having not experienced the country before, you might expect to encounter stereotypically hot, disparate streetscapes, yet this hasn’t been our experience at all. Developers thinking beyond individual spaces, about the creation of ‘unified places’ which include retail, commercial and residential (mixed-use) space on single sites. There is increased evidence of planned, integrated development which makes excellent use of streetscapes as public spaces which connect the surrounding buildings and serve to unify entire precincts. This is very unique and isn’t something you see very often, even in some more developed countries globally. This ‘place-making’ really is demonstrative of cutting edge, holistic thinking around how we plan and utilise space optimally.

Which international trends have the potential to add value to the South African built environment and how is Aurecon applying these locally?

Advanced building modeling for optimal outcomes
Peter: In terms of the increasing trend towards Green Star buildings, there is an opportunity to take the design of these buildings to the next level in terms of how technology is applied during the conceptual design phase. The use of Building Information Modelling (BIM) and 3D design techniques to explore and understand a project’s physical and functional characteristics before it is built can offer our clients cost savings as well as flexibility. Coupled to this is the possibility of ensuring no unknown variables negatively influence a building’s performance. What results is ultimately smarter design – including smart facades and smart building envelopes. 

Benjamin: Structures, too, are becoming more intelligent as we realise new solutions to creating exposed, tall, longspan, sustainable and, in earthquake prone areas, low damage seismic resistant buildings that push the boundaries of what was previously considered possible. Increasingly, engineering teams are being called on to apply lessons learnt around the world to produce structures that have intelligence built in from the very beginning as opposed to trying to fit this kind of thinking in at the end of the design process.

A question of value
Benjamin: Increasingly, engineers are being tasked with understanding, driving and applying additional value in terms of project outcomes. This requires them to venture beyond the most obvious of project deliverables, i.e. cost and delivery timeframes, and challenge clients to orientate their investment decisions toward future driven project outcomes. These are often very diverse, and unique to each individual project, but might include the fact that, for example, occupying cutting-edge premises plays a role in talent retention in today’s war for skills. Coupled to this, tenants are increasing unwilling to occupy buildings which don’t meet minimal sustainability criteria, and so investing beyond building ‘basics’ is a wise development strategy. In today’s competitive environment, it really is about partnering with each individual client to achieve more than just project completion.

Responding to climate
Stephen: Designing for climate is a key aspect of sustainable design for buildings. This means looking for both the threats and the opportunities in each place. This means you would have different approaches for buildings in Tshwane, Cape Town and EThekwini etc. In each location, we need to take advantage of the local climate to produce the most efficient designs possible. For example, Cape Town has mild temperatures and strong breezes, influenced by the sea all around it. This means you would try to use natural ventilation as much as possible. The dust in Johannesburg, however, might dissuade you from using this same approach there.

Energy supply at a precinct level
Peter: The increasing price of energy has driven many project owners to seek alternate methods of power production. Increasingly, we’re tasked with advising our clients on alternate energy supply at a precinct level. This involves moving beyond conventional methods of alternate power production for individual buildings, such as wind and solar, and exploring more widely-applicable methods of producing power for clusters of buildings, such as using an area’s collective waste production and excess heat to produce power.

Can you comment on the level of skills you’ve seen in RSA, specifically in the built environment, and how can we bolster or boost these skills?

Benjamin: The level of skills in South Africa is high, such that these skills are being sought further afield than just on the continent. Conversely, this has led to the often cited ‘skills drain’ on the continent.

Stephen: As a group, Aurecon has moved beyond seeing skills as isolated to certain continents. As Competency Leaders, we’re tasked with ensuring our teams collaborate globally to share best-of-breed skills in the different industries and geographies in which the company operates.

We want our teams in every region to have high skill levels, but importantly, we want them to be globally connected to each other, so that they can bring the best thinking, analysis and quality to their clients. One of very critical advantaged of being an international company is that of seamless communication of skills and information. Modelling software might, for example, be more readily available in Australia because of the strength of the Australian currency. We leverage this by developing the local skills available to compile the data required as input into this software, and then transferring this data to be modelled using the cutting edge software available globally.

We often surprise our clients with the breadth of really advanced skills we can bring to the table in any location and at reasonable cost. This is partly because we have widely dispersed skills, but the real trick is in the way we are connected to each other.

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