One in three architects could lose their job as Covid-19 kills off SA property projects

By Nadya Swart

A national survey conducted for the South African Council for the Architectural Profession (SACAP) shows severe hardship as a result of Covid-19 containment measures has already hit architects across South Africa.

The national survey, which covers about 12,600 staff employed by about 1,800 practices, reveals that just over 900 people, or 7%, have been retrenched. The survey also highlights that the total number of retrenchments, completed and planned, could be between 16% (best case scenario) and 27% (worst case scenario).

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Architects are owed huge sums. At least 62% of practices in the survey have outstanding invoices, the average value of which is R846,000. This amount increases to over R8m for macro practices and the total value of invoices outstanding for these 995 practices is a staggering R842m.

Another disturbing statistic is that more than one-quarter (28%) of practices have closed or could close down as a result of the lockdown.

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Although the construction industry is slowly reopening, lockdown damage has already been done to many of the professions that form part of its pipeline, noted the Western Cape Property Development Forum.

It said in a statement that, of the 1,817 practices countrywide, 594 practices are located in the Western Cape and had a combined total of more than 4,000 staff before the lockdown. Of these, 317 staff (8%) had already been retrenched, and it was estimated that by the end of the next three months this number could rise in the Western Cape to as many as 1,066 (26%).

Simmy Peerutin of Peerutin Architects was quoted in the media release as saying: “It is estimated that R2.99bn is outstanding in total, of which R1.44bn is owed by public sector. So the architectural profession in South Africa, on which the actual technical production line of property development begins, is essentially crippled.”

Think of the architects as the “canaries in the coal mine”, he said. 

Western Cape Property Development Forum chairperson Deon van Zyl said: “There is a perception that professional services have not been hard hit by the lockdown, but the results of this survey show how deep the pandemic has hit the production line of property development.

“This means that the repercussions of the lockdown will be felt for years to come, and will have another huge impact on what was already a severely depressed and struggling property development and construction sector even before Covid-19,” he added, of the picture for architects as well as the broader economy.

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