In South Africa, all architectural professionals must be registered with the South African Council for the Architectural Profession (SACAP) which sets strict requirements for registering in the different categories. For more information on the current legal requirements, be sure to check out our “The Legal Requirements” article (https://www.xeno-urban.com/post/the-legal-requirements). In this article though, we will focus on the roles of the different professionals.
The dynamic between architects and draughtspeople has a rich history and, if understood correctly, these two distinct professions complement each other well. Unfortunately changes over the past few decades, both in/around the architecture industry and in the legal framework that regulates it, have resulted in much confusion among members of the public with regards to these professionals.
Historically, architects, draughtspeople and technologists have had very different roles in the industry. Architects have perhaps the least well-defined role because they are seen as the leader of the project team and thus must have knowledge of the work done by all the other professionals. The main value architects bring to a project is through the initial creative design of a building and then through making sure every other professional involved with a project executes their own duties without compromising on the design intention. They are generally prepared for this role by SACAP’s uniquely stringent requirements of work experience and a Master’s degree which focuses specifically on this aspect of architectural work. For this reason they are likely to charge a premium compared to the other professionals, but the additional cost is normally well justified in terms of additional value provided.
Draughtspeople used to be seen as a distinct, important and much more numerous professionals with a focus on the actual drawing work involved in the architectural process. Whether on less design focussed work under their own direction, or under the direction of a supervising architect for larger projects where the architect would focus on the design aspect, the draughtsman would be the person primarily responsible for producing a large number of drawings which are necessary for submission to the local authority and for construction. They are usually prepared for this role by a specifically suited educational course and certainly by on-the-job training and experience which specifically focusses on architectural drawing. Usually this training only covers the basics of construction and very little in terms of higher-level design.
Technologists and Senior technologists, who were a later addition to the profession, have a greater amount of training in the design and construction disciplines than Draughtspeople. As such, they would take on work that requires some design, but normally with a greater focus on the technical resolution of conceptual designs towards greater constructability.
Though the roles as outlined above were traditionally quite clear, a number of shifts in and around the industry over the past few decades have contributed to an ever-increasing lack of clarity. One important factor which has contributed to this confusion is the legal framework. As described in our article on “The Legal Requirements”, there was a long time where any of the professional categories could legally sign off on any project type and size. This is no longer the case and we will publish a separate article to clarify the latest requirements. But it is worth noting that the many years without legal limitations, combined with the comparatively low barrier of entry for registration as a draughtsperson or technologist, has resulted in many architectural professionals marketing for and taking on work that far exceeds their ability and training to adequately perform.
Worsening this situation has been the response of institutions of higher learning, some of whom have taken away courses dedicated to draughtspeople. More students than ever before are being admitted to architecture programmes but many never complete their studies to qualify as an architect, settling instead for registration as a draughtsperson or technologist. This creates a situation where registered architectural professionals who aren’t architects are sometimes interpreted as being en-route to becoming architects or basically lesser qualified versions of architects. This is out of sync with the historical roles of the different professions and does harm to the industry because it often results in professionals taking on work which they are not adequately prepared to do.
Perhaps the greatest harm this confusion has caused is the level of unhealthy competition in the industry. Normally competition is great because it causes businesses to improve the value they deliver to clients, but there are types of competition that have the opposite effect. The proliferation of businesses that promote themselves as offering types of architectural services which they do not have the skills to properly do has forced architectural firms to lower prices to unsustainable levels just to compete. As a result, firms are forced to spend less time and fewer resources on each project, resulting in poor quality work becoming the norm in the industry. For more on this topic, be sure to check out our article on “How much architects charge”.
The most important point to understand is that the differences between architectural professionals in different categories of registration are still very real today both from a practical and legal stand point. SACAP maintains separate categories, setting a much higher educational barrier to entry for architects than for architectural draughtspeople. Importantly, the registration requirements emphasize not only the level of education, but also the type of experience. Each category of professional is required to gain experience which aligns proportionally with the unique role for that category before they can register as a professional, so a particular category can only be assumed competent to fulfill the role which aligns to that category and not necessarily any other. Clients thus need to be careful to ensure that a professional is capable of competently completing the work prior to appointing them.
It should be emphasized that there are highly competent and experienced professionals practicing across all four categories of professional registration. Even so, draughtspeople are primarily trained to produce drawings, technologists are primarily trained to ensure that conceptual designs are translated into buildable detailed designs and architects are primarily trained to design architectural solutions to complex problems and ensure such solutions are constructed in keeping with the design intentions. Based on this understanding, one can determine what type of professional would likely be best suited to your project. If you want to have plans drawn up and approved of your existing building, a draughtsman might be a great fit because they should have the necessary skills and will likely charge far less than an architect. If, however, your project requires a unique and beautiful design to be crafted from scratch, a professional architect would typically be best suited to the task.