SVA International is actively delivering projects across many disciplines not only in its home market South Africa, but all over the continent
Writer: Tom Wadlow | Project Manager: Eddie Clinton
Whether it be broadening expertise and offerings or reaching out to clients in other markets, the ability to spread risk can be critical to a company’s longevity, not least when conditions are tough.
Take South Africa’s building industry. Experiencing a well-documented decline in recent years, it is arguably the sector hit hardest by a national economy that has been treading water lately, with the green shoots of recovery only just starting to be seen.
But optimism does exist, and architecture and urban design firm SVA International is poised to serve the South African market as its recovery takes shape.
A major reason for this is the fact it has sought work outside of the country to safeguard itself against such a challenging domestic backdrop.
“We are fortunate to have opportunities outside of South Africa across the continent and are able to service many sectors in countries that have smaller economies, but much better growth potential,” comments Mike Rossiter, Executive Director at the firm.
“Partnering with developers and consultants in these countries, South Africa can offer specialised skills in retail, hospitality, commercial offices, multi-unit residential developments, as well as infrastructure projects such as hospitals. In country partnerships and local knowledge are key to the success of working on the continent.”
Rossiter’s journey with SVA spans two decades, the Executive Director beginning his involvement with the company when it merged with his former employer.
For him, architecture is a labour of love, a career built on a passion for planning, environment and art, a passion which trickles down into the arteries of the organisation.
Indeed, SVA employs around 100 dedicated professionals who work out of offices in Cape Town, Durban, Johannesburg and Port Elizabeth, the past 10 years seeing it work in around three quarters of African countries across a vast array of projects, from shopping malls and offices to residential and mixed-use developments.
“We have had a strong focus on West Africa and have designed and built many projects in Nigeria and Ghana,” Rossiter explains. “At the moment we have renewed interest in East Africa as well as some of the Southern African countries, like Zambia and Botswana.”
In Rwanda, SVA is fully engaged in a landmark mixed-use project in the Kinyinya suburb of Kigali.
It comprises precinct with a large residential element made up of several multi-storeyed units (eight to 12 storeys) for family housing and some standalone villas, this first phase providing enough accommodation for 10,000 people. A shopping centre, hotel, offices, community buildings and a parking basement form the other components.
“The developers and contractors are using a precast concrete construction system, and SVA is working with the Chinese client to improve the existing designs and unlock efficiencies and architectural opportunities,” he adds.
“The project is important as it indicates a different relationship between developers and contractors from China working on the continent with architects and shows that working in partnership can and will benefit both parties.”
Arguably SVA’s strongest suit in recent years has been the retail space.
Rossiter cites a swathe of greenfield and brownfield developments which demonstrated the company’s leadership status in the area of design innovation, many such projects being award-winning, environmentally responsible and financially sustainable.
While the practice has successfully completed many award winning regional malls, projects recently have tended to be mid-sized neighbourhood shopping centres with a strong lifestyle component, such as Kyalami Corner in Johannesburg and the Sanctuary development in Capetown
He says: “We have been involved on some retail projects over an extended period of time where we have been responsible for the many evolutions of a building’s lifecycle, for example with Cavendish Square in Cape Town and Greenacres Mall in Port Elizabeth, and it has been rewarding to be working on buildings that the company designed historically.
“Retail projects on the continent such as The Palms phase two and Lekki Mall in Lagos, as well as many others, have contributed to the development of the retail industry in Africa.
“Commercial office projects such as BCX Head Office, headquarters of an ICT institution, have been one of our larger developments in this space which brought together efficient space planning concepts and innovative collaborative spaces. Another flagship commercial office project is Wings Towers in Lagos, a landmark development on the in Nigeria.”
Given the economic stagnation in South Africa, brownfield projects have become important in all sectors as clients have moved to protect and improve existing assets. Recently SVA won awards for an office and retail redevelopment at 33 Baker Street, Rosebank, Johannesburg.
Key to the delivery of such an extensive pipeline of projects and establishment of SVA as an industry leader is a formidable network of skills both inside and outside of the organisation.
This is identified as a major differentiator by Rossiter, who points to a national footprint of specialised skills across the group, not least in the area of BIM, its cloud-based working methods giving the company flexibility in terms of resourcing and including external parties onto project teams when needed.
“We generally operate in an environment of skills shortages and compete with many others for the same skills,” the Executive Director explains. “We have a developed HR recruitment process, and potential recruits are interviewed by relevant specialists and technical posts are tested for BIM skills.
“We have a permanent and continuous internal training programme where we train BIM skills as well as the application of these into workflows. Young talent is recruited mainly through our student employment and bursary programme and we bring new skillsets into the business through this initiative.”
This is complemented by a range of employee retention programmes, initiatives which assist in maintaining a stable staff compliment.
Rossiter also praises the critical role played by people outside of SVA, its network of suppliers and partners fundamental to the successful delivery of projects and continuously introducing the firm to new ideas.
“We are always on the lookout for new and innovate products and building solutions, but need to be wary of untried products,” he says. “We develop performance specifications to international standards for most projects, particularly those outside of South Africa in order to safeguard our clients and ourselves and to ensure that the right products are used and properly installed.
“We have dedicated people in the business who research products and interact with suppliers, arranging demonstrations with members of staff and creating libraries of samples and brochures.”
Another key appointment at SVA will also help to steer its future direction.
The firm’s board recently appointed Sandi Mbutuma to the role of Managing Director – a qualified quantity surveyor, she is an accomplished businesswoman who Rossiter believes will take the business to the next level in the coming years.
Such work involves the implementation of a strategic plan which includes a renewed market sector and continent-wide focus, as the Executive Director explains in his closing remarks.
“Currently our focus is on consolidation of our South African revenue base as well as to renew our focus on East Africa. West Africa, in spite of the problems that the oil-based economies experienced a few years ago, remains important to us and we will continue to be active there.
“Together with our partners in Gibb, we will continue to develop our Africa strategy and continue to develop our partners and networks on the continent.”