Architecture moving forward – the need for reinvention post-Covid-19

With the local property sector severely impacted by the pandemic, Derick Henstra, Partner and Executive Chairman of dhk believes that the architectural industry was one of the first to “bear the brunt” of Covid-19.

As the barometer in the industry, small architectural firms have ground to a halt with the bigger architectural firms reducing in size. Whilst many new projects are being put on hold, there has been an uptick with some developers pushing on and “seizing the moment”.

However, Derick believes that property development, like our
economy, will continue to take strain and will take some time to recover.

What we mustn’t forget is that people are attaching a
lot of the importance on the cause of Covid-19 but what they forget is that we
were first in a technical recession – we were in crisis before Covid-19.”

Derick strongly believes that if the architectural industry
is to survive, it needs to learn new tricks and to reinvent itself. An
awareness for how the economy works, how clients tick and what clients need is
vital to enduring the recession.

Our projects need to be commercially viable and we need
to design more responsibly.

At dhk, we are forever reviewing the way we work, the
way we deal with people, the way we design and build. You can never relax; you
must rethink things and you cannot rest on your laurels. You must be happy to
learn all the time. Times are continuously changing

Trends post Covid-19

As we move forward, Derick believes that there are four ‘good practices’ that we should be on the lookout for:

Public space

The most prominent and evident ‘trend’ to surface is public space. He notes that for the first time in his career, the recent dialogue has all been about our greater awareness of personal space with an accent on movement and exercise.

The previous trend in South Africa was always to be as spatially efficient as possible and to cram as many people in as possible, per square meter. I think this is definitely going to change.”

As serious urban designers, dhk believes that outdoor
elements (such as fresh air and movement) will be the new ‘norm’.

“Europe is reclaiming their streets. There is a huge
movement in the world where streets are being shared more with people, cyclists
and cars with the closure of streets and pavements.”

Re-purposing buildings

We should be very aware of repurposing buildings. There are
a lot of shopping centres and offices that are empty, and these could be
converted into housing opportunities and facilities.

We have a housing shortage that needs to be addressed” says Derick.

President Ramaphosa has been at pains to telling the world how we are going to get infrastructure projects going and I can attest to this. One of our big clients is in constant communication with the President and they are making big tracts of land available for affordable housing.”

Office space

Derick publicly agrees that offices will very much be a part
of our lives going forward, contrary to what the industry may believe. Although
more and more people will be working from home, you cannot run a business in this

You cannot measure emotion, you cannot develop a
company culture and comradery and in our line of work, you need that interface

While we may reduce our office requirements, the need for
office space will stay the same. With Covid-19 likely to be with us for the
next two to three years, we are going to have to be less dense and we will need
to start formulating certain partitions against this pandemic. Architects need
to be cognisant of compartmentalizing and not having vast tracts of open office

The upgrading of our Heating, Ventilation and Air
Conditioning (HVAC) will be the greatest cost and it needs to be carefully
thought out. How we ventilate our buildings going forward is important, says

We will be thinking more about natural ventilation.
There will be a greater care and specifications on air conditioning, and I
believe this industry is going to undergo quite a change

I’ll be heavily critical of this. I will want to know
more as an architect. Natural movement and the passaging of air is going to be

Green buildings

People are becoming more receptive to green sustainable
architecture and Derick believes that this is one of the advantages of

As architects, we have been preaching this gospel for
years. We should be doing it

90% of dhk’s clients insist and demand that sustainable
building practices are used, no matter the cost. dhk have just finished
developing Capitec’s
iKhaya headquarters
in Stellenbosch which coincidently, is fully Covid-19

With three floors and very few lifts, the building boasts lots of natural light and ventilation with beautiful compartment space for the departments. “It really ticks all the boxes” says Derick.

Capitec’s iKhaya – dhk’s holistic architectural approach considered both the exterior and interior to optimise corporate expenditure, internal flow, and sustainability.

If you are developing a building, you do not think about how many green stars you can get. It should be common practice to put good working environments together.”

With three floors and very few lifts, the building boasts lots of natural light and ventilation with beautiful compartment space for the departments. “It really ticks all the boxes” says Derick.

If you are developing a building, you do not think about how many green stars you can get. It should be common practice to put good working environments together.”

Design briefs of the future

Derick does not believe that much will change in the way of
his client’s design briefs post-Covid-19.

However, one noticeable component is parking. Post Covid-19,
projects may lean towards less vehicular accommodation as more people use
public transport to get to work.

Derick says that historically the demand in the CBDs and cities (Johannesburg and Cape Town) for vehicle storage and parking has radically dropped. When you move further out, into the decentralized areas, parking requirements increase balancing it out.

dhk’s Johannesburg and Cape Town offices have been busy. The
Joburg team is the smaller outfit and Cape Town’s team is one of the biggest in
Africa. Derick says that they have been working on some fantastic projects in

I am happy to say that dhk Architects have been busy. Whilst
we have had to reduce our staff salaries (in line with the rest of the country),
we believe that it was the right thing to do as we have managed to keep our
heads above water – we have been incredibly lucky. Although these have been
uncertain times, there have been some exciting projects that have popped up.”

Covid-19 is not the end of the world. We must get back
to work. We cannot sit at home – we will never stimulate the economy. You do
not build buildings from home
” he concludes.

6 Parks Boulevard in the Oxfords Park precinct. The building is three storeys with a distinct façade of fritted glass that features a pattern of trees, inspired by Johannesburg’s urban forest. dhk’s focus was on the contrast between light and dark frames surrounding the glazed area.
32 on Kloof in Cape Town. dhk’s design aimed at improving, increasing, and maximizing the existing external and internal spaces. The building’s rich history has been respected via a contemporary aesthetic that references its existing heritage.

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