Whither goes style in the recession?

As with other professions, architects have been badly affected by the impact of the current recession on the construction industry, which is one of the worst hit industries following the primary impact on the mining and manufacturing sectors.

The recent changes in government policy regarding the minister of finance has had an effect in the building industry, as large amount of investment money is held back, preventing the initiation of building projects.

Looking at the buildings being constructed now, and the amount of builders’ cranes operating in Gauteng and elsewhere it does not seem that there is a reduction in building work. It should be remembered that contracts for projects in construction now, was signed a year or two ago, and that the preliminary phases of the architects work started before that. The prospects for 2016/2017 does not look so good in certain sectors.

The difference with other professions that are in the same boat, is that the income of architects was already being eroded before the recession because of existing perceptions that architectural services are expensive, elitist and not meeting those client demands that vary from the norm (as Leon Krüger of Leon Krüger Architects previously commented. Krüger says that, to reduce architecture fees, Government is now calling for tenders for professional services and increasingly private sector clients only use architects in certain stages of construction, leaving in-house resources to do the rest. The resulting drop in service levels compromises both the reputation of the architect involved and the building project itself.
The background to the current scenario is that individualism (or egoism), the pursuit of money and differences in understanding of style, function and the role of the architect, have disrupted the relationships between the developers and the designers of habitats. As a result, arguments about fees often give rise to arguments about form. The recession has seen the much tighter budgets and, given limited room for maneuvering, a re-appreciation for the role of simple, but attractive design that suits the times, with a strong focus on functionality and modesty.
However, designing during the recession does not mean that buildings have to be drab and uninspired. Cutting-edge, aesthetically pleasing buildings can also be economically viable. “There just needs to be better communication and mutual understanding between architects and developers. Innovative design and commercial viability are not mutually exclusive concepts, though unfortunately many players in our industry believe they are. This has resulted in a rift between real-estate developers and design-focused architects.”

Architects will have to face the fact that their clients are subject to the same economic pressures as they are. Krüger believes that collaborative relationships with developers, based on trust, disclosure and mutual understanding, and a re-emphasis of the balance between form and function in design, have been long overdue in the architectural profession. Perhaps this change in thinking is one good thing to come out of the recession, and in the long run the profession can only benefit from it.

Leon Krüger’s choice of modest but attractive design:


Liliesleaf was the headquarters of Umkhonto we Sizwe in the 1960s. Architects Mashabane Rose Associates completed the project to develop the site from a residential block to a memorial in June 2008. Krüger describes it as one of the few public buildings completed in South Africa in the past year that shows some restraint and modesty.


…written by Leon Krüger and published in The Real Thing, a property industry newsletter.

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