Africa’s Engineers of Choice
Writer: Emily Jarvis
Project Manager: Arron Rampling
HBS Africa Consulting Engineers has spent more than three decades honing its high level of experience and technical knowhow from working in some of the continent’s developing construction markets, to offer uncompromising engineering and construction techniques that are the right fit for Africa.
Robert Huff, Managing Director recalls: “When we started out in South Africa in 1987, we embraced the ethos of value engineering in all of our projects and delivered the most cost-effective designs. At that time this approach was novel and hugely successful for us, and consequently we were repeatedly awarded with some of the largest building and civil construction projects of that period.
“After showcasing our skills and strong desire to succeed we were appointed by the British Government to expand embassies throughout Africa in 2003.
Essentially, we were given the opportunity to show that HBS had what it took to operate in Africa, and was flexible enough to adapt to the varying economic and physical environments without compromising on quality assurance or cost-effectiveness.”
This desire to further succeed and the in-depth understanding of the local markets has translated into more than US$500 million worth of iconic developments benefitting from the HBS approach to business on the continent today.
“Involved during the initial project planning stage right through to completion, our work can be the difference between viable and non-viable projects; making it crucial that we use our experience of operating in Africa’s challenging environments to produce the best final result possible,” he adds.
Specialising in consulting, civil and structural engineering, HBS Africa continues to put itself forward for all types of projects across Africa where it can showcase its abilities and partner with clients to work as an enthusiastic team to provide new and appropriate engineering solutions to developments. Its flagship foray into larger commercial projects started with the development of Levy Business Park in Zambia in 2010; comprising retail, offices, structured parking and hotel elements.
“Opened in 2012, the US$160 million Levy Business Park in Zambia signalled the start of the bigger projects yet to come our way,” David Freeme, HBS Africa Structural Director, says. “We are now proud to continue working on some of the most iconic developments across Africa; helped by the organic expansion of our associated offices across 15 countries on the continent.”
HBS Africa has since been selected to work on projects for some of the biggest names across the continent, including the US$58 million 14-storey EcoBank headquarters (25,000 square metres) in Accra, due to be completed in December this year; the US$40 million Union Offices, (12,000m2) in Accra; the US$45 million 335 Place Offices in Accra, (15,000m2); and most recently, the US$220 million Maitama mixed-use development in Nigeria (80,000m2).
“HBS employees not only get a chance to implement and learn new engineering techniques, but they can also put their stamp on these iconic structures to add to their personal portfolio by working with us,” details Freeme, who was keen to emphasise the lesser talked about benefits behind the scenes.
For each project undertaken, HBS works with local engineers in a partnership. It is this value-add proposition and experience promise for local engineers and consultants that distinguishes HBS Africa as a Company that values each and every individual.
“Ultimately, this helps us to forge better client relationships and a deep-rooted understanding of market needs. Our ethos and culture of development has resulted in HBS Africa becoming the engineers of choice for many developers, institutions and corporates,” says Huff.
Operating in Africa’s often challenging economic and physical environments was initially a learning curve for the Company, with many modern engineering construction techniques unavailable or modified to suit the local environment. He explains: “When we entered Ghana five years ago for example, we were, at first, unable to obtain a high enough grade of concrete strength for high-rise buildings. We therefore saw this as an opportunity to utilise our knowledge and visit local ready-mix concrete suppliers and laboratory testing facilities to implement techniques and introduce equipment to ensure we could be supplied with higher concrete strengths.
“We also have introduced piling and lateral support systems for larger and deeper building basements. This results in cost-effective structures with increased GLA with a resultant increase in rentable income in tandem with construction cost reduction, which results in higher returns for investors.”
Deploying a similar approach to skills transfer when working with local joint venture partners, HBS Africa has become known for its concerted focus on improving local engineering standards, skill levels and quality control methods.
“Our ‘African solutions for African Developments’ ethos was very much a product of our time spent on the continent and it continues to develop in tandem with the latest IT infrastructure, social media, state-of-the-art 3-D drafting and design technologies and so on in our strive for continuous improvement and engineering excellence,” Freeme emphasises.
Having spent decades refining the quality of its products and services, from both a technical and cost-effective standpoint, HBS Africa now has a value engineering proposition capable of tackling any project of any size.
“We earned our place in a niche market in the early years, but by putting ourselves forward as a consultancy firm big enough to deal with large projects, yet structured to give Directors attention from start to completion of every project. We have a recognised ability to deliver a tailored personal service; ensuring face-to-face interaction with our clients and delivering a project within cost and time constraints,” details Huff.
“We believe the best form of marketing is the work that we do,” Freeme further adds.
HBS Africa has a future expansion programme in place to support this all-encompassing value-add approach in a competitive market. Huff explains: “Driven by both client and investor movements, the Company is looking at expansion opportunities all the time.”
With two joint venture projects currently in talks in the Ivory Coast, a mixed-use project in Uganda, as well as openness to proceed with opportunities in East Africa and Rwanda, HBS Africa aims to continue developing its reputation as the engineer of choice, demonstrated in-part by its local construction knowledge and aptitude for continuous innovation in Africa. As a result, the Company predicts US$300 million worth of new projects in East and West Africa over the next five years.
“Innovation never stands still and neither do we. HBS Africa stays ahead by making sure our work is completed to an international standard, which makes our clients successful; translating into our own success,” he concludes.