The process of finding an architect is a lot like dating. You will get introduced by your friends, search online, or maybe even contact one of your ex-contractors. The process can either be gruelling or fun and exciting, depending on your mind-set. However you approach it though, keep in mind that you may be in for a long term commitment, so settling for second-best is just not an option.
Before finding an architect, first find yourself
The first step in the process of choosing the right architect in South Africa is not to look for an architect, but rather to seek and discover your own tastes.
Before you can know whether you’ve found the right person for the job, you first need to determine the nature of the job itself.
Become aware of your architectural surroundings: keep in mind the interplay between visual elements and their effects on your mental state, your impressions of various types of materials, and, most importantly, the feelings you experience as a result of the culmination of these aspects.
As with many works of design, it is often the case that the best architecture goes unnoticed by many. The most comfortable, easy and pleasing architectural surroundings are often the least perceptible.
Create a portfolio of imagery for yourself. Include all of the aspects of design which resonate most with you, and make sure to include examples of both interiors and exteriors that please you.
In this process you will discover much of your own taste that you were previously unaware of, and learn what exactly to ask the firms which you do eventually get into contact with.
Each architect in South Africa is different, with their own unique style, tastes and ethos.
Where should you look for an architect in South Africa?
Once you have a solid understanding of what you are looking for, it’s time to start seeking. Your community is the best place to start. A recommendation from a friend can be the perfect introduction into a trusting relationship.
Naturally, many of us do not have architects as friends, or even friends of friends. Your next best option will be the internet. Don’t underestimate the power of social media as a source of honest opinions: real people, like you, have got experiences to share.
Take a look at SACAP, the South African Council for the Architectural Profession’s website for a searchable list of accredited South African architects.
It is paramount that you find an architectural company whose values are in line with yours, and who will be genuinely interested in your project. Use websites, social media profiles, and actual work you have looked at in the real world to determine if their ethos is congruent with the vision you have for your project.
Don’t be shy to reach out to the owners of buildings which catch your eye. They will almost always be more than happy to give a referral to the company who produced good work for them. Any architect in South Africa must rely heavily on word of mouth to get new clients.
The job interview
Once you’ve identified several potential prospects, call them to set up interviews. In general, an architect in South Africa, including us at OLIVEHILL Architects, will not charge for the initial interview and consultation. However, some firms do, and you should always ask about this first before setting up a meeting.
If you’ve ever been for a nerve wracking job interview then you might have a mild feeling of dread for this part of the process. However, in this case you are the one with all of the power, so you should feel comfortable and at ease, and if you don’t, then perhaps that particular candidate is not the right one for you.
You’ll be working with the person you choose for a potentially long time, so you’ll be best off looking for someone in whom you see some friendship potential. You’re not just looking for an architect in South Africa, you’re looking for a building partner.
Even though this should be one of, if not the most relaxed interviews of your life, you still need to grill your interviewees with questions. Ask anything that you may be curious about, since it’s your prerogative. Also keep these questions in mind:
- How busy is the company at the moment?
- Does the company have the capacity to take on your project right now?
- Who will be in charge of your project? You should be introduced to them at the initial meeting.
- What is the company’s creative ethos?
- What experience does the firm have working on similar projects?
- How interested is the company in your project?
- What sort of fee and budget structure can you expect from them?
- The firm needs to be registered with SACAP to submit regulatory plans on your behalf, so ask about their accreditation.
Your prospective firm should also have plenty of questions for you.
They should work with you, in an interactive process, to determine the viability of your project. Be wary of anyone who appears to say yes to absolutely everything you say without question: you need to be absolutely sure that the company you choose is up for the job.
The final choice
After conducting several interviews, create a shortlist of the best candidates to get back into contact with.
Ask the architects on your short list to take you on a tour of one of their previous projects. The insights you can get from hearing their own impressions of their work is invaluable. Also be sure to ask for a list of references from past clients. These are your best sources of information about what working with each particular firm is actually like.