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ARCHITECTS

The Legal Requirements

Updated: Jul 14, 2020

In South Africa, along with most other countries in the world, it is illegal to build without plans that have been approved by the local municipal authority. Notably, this not only applies to new buildings, but also to additions and alterations to existing buildings including what many people might interpret as minor changing like adding a carport, closing in and existing patio, changing bathroom layouts, etc.

Such building plans must be drawn up and signed off by a person who is registered in a recognised professional category with the regulatory body. Most countries have their own regulatory body and so there may be some differences depending on which country you are in. In South Africa, the architectural profession is regulated by the South African Council for the Architectural Profession (SACAP) and no person can legally sign off on or submit building plans for approval unless they are registered as a professional with SACAP.


SACAP provides for a number of distinct categories of professional registration and sets strict requirements with regards to the level of education, the amount of experience and the passing of practice examinations necessary for a person to be registered in each professional category. The categories are:

-Professional Architectural Draughtsperson

-Professional Architectural Technologist

-Professional Senior Architectural Technologist

-Professional Architect

The exact requirements to register in each category may change from time to time and the most current details can be found on SACAP’s website (https://www.sacapsa.com/page/conditions). In summary though, it is helpful to understand that the requirements to register in the professional categories become more stringent as you move down the list above. As an example, the educational requirement to qualify as an Architectural Draughtsperson is a National Senior Certificate, while Architects need a Master’s degree. For this reason, it is illegal for a person registered in one category to use the names reserved for more senior categories. Therefore no person may legally refer to themselves as a “Professional Architect” unless they are registered with SACAP in this category.

As a general rule then, it can be assumed that the professionals registered in the categories lower down on the list are more highly qualified, but this does not mean they are always the best suited for a particular job. For more clarity on the difference between architects and draughtspersons, be sure to check out our dedicated entry on the topic (https://www.xeno-urban.com/post/architects-vs-draughtspeople).


It used to be the case that there was a legal requirement for buildings of certain types and above a certain size to be signed off by a person registered in the higher categories of registration. Registered architects could therefore sign off on any building plans while draughtspersons could sign off only on the smallest and simplest of structures, with technologists falling between these two extremes. The Competition Commission of South Africa, however, declared this legislation anti-competitive, citing multiple reasons including its hindrance of transformation in the country. The issue remains controversial and is the subject of ever ongoing legal battles, but as it stands, it is important to note that any person registered with SACAP in any of the professional categories can legally sign off on building plan submissions.

Though the legal framework now allows for any registered architectural professional to sign off on plans, the large differences between registration categories poses a clear risk to clients. Though there are reputable and experienced professionals practicing in each of the four categories of professional architectural registration, the low entry requirements for some categories of registration make it far easier for individuals to legally market themselves as performing architectural work of a type that they lack the necessary competencies to adequately perform. It is for this reason that, when considering the appointment of architectural professionals in such categories, clients need to carefully consider the track record and experience of such a professional to ensure that they are competent to carry out the architectural work for the project in question.

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