21 December 2012

Zambia: New ZIA Council Assigned to Bring Back Profession On Course

Introduction

THE architectural profession held its make-or-break 58th Annual General Meeting (AGM) at Wasawange Lodge in Livingstone on November 30, 2012 at which Mr Chris Yaluma, Minister of Transport, Works, Supply and Communications was the guest of honour.

At the conclusion of the AGM, architect Walusiku Lisulo, who was also the president for the period 1986 to 1990, was elected president of the Zambia Institute of Architects (ZIA).

This particular annual general meeting was critical for the sake of the future of the profession because the relevance of the architectural profession to national development has of late been heavily questioned even though almost all human activities are affected and influenced by architectural products.

Activities such as education, health services, housing, industrial and commercial, the hospitality industry and so on, all require some kind of built environment created through architecture in which to operate from.

The architectural profession has also been apportioned blame for the environmental mess that most if not all our towns and cities are in today even though close to 80 per cent of applications to develop submitted to our local authorities are made by persons or organisations not registered with the ZIA as required by law.

It is then the resolve of the profession that the ZIA should, under these circumstances, take charge of all architectural matters in order to give justification to such finger pointing.

The Walusiku Lisulo led ZIA Council has been tasked with the responsibility to realign and bring back on course the architectural profession to be the team leader it is supposed to be in the construction industry.

In this regard there are, therefore, a number of areas which require the attention and focus of the new ZIA Council.

Abuse

There are traditionally established methods of acquiring architectural services worldwide which have been used in the past, however, and of late there have been various methods that a number of clients have used, which to those who do not understand the required ingredients in architectural production may consider to be fair and competitive and yet they are prone to abusing architects.

These methods include the acquiring of architectural services through expressions of interests and subsequent submissions of technical and financial proposals.

A method which works perfectly when procuring stationery may be totally inadequate when procuring architectural or indeed pharmaceutical products.

The major weakness in using submission of technical and financial proposals to acquire architectural services lies in those mandated to adjudicate such submission who, in most cases, are not conversant with the minefields that cluster the construction industry and end up using this process to post rationalise predetermined selection positions.

The new ZIA Council was instructed to lobby stake holders on this matter.

Foreign Architectural Consultants

Most countries including those in this region restrict, via various statutes, who should offer architectural services within the country this is for very good reasons which may also apply at different levels to the legal and medical and other professions as well.

Provision of architectural services also carries a third party duty of care and because buildings rarely collapse instantaneously it has been thought important to take measures so that those that provide architectural services are properly registered and will be available to be held responsible should anything happen to their products.

A significant number of architectural projects in Zambia are negotiated and executed without much public knowledge and by the time the profession is becoming aware of such projects, they either are very advanced or are on site.

Such projects may include those that are funded by donors or mining companies or are realised through foreign loans or grants by Government.

The new ZIA Council has been given the responsibility to bring this matter not only to the attention of Government but also other stake holders, in fact this is what is obtaining in all neighbouring countries.

A Zambian registered architect cannot be allowed to practise in any of the neighbouring countries without being registered in that country.

The overall effect of this practice is that Zambian consultants are being deprived of jobs locally as well as in foreign countries while our counterparts in foreign countries are "eating with both hands".

Again the ZIA through its council is expected to sensitise Government and if necessary take legal action against culprits on this matter.

Education

Admission to most professional bodies among other things include sitting for and passing some kind of admission examination after completion of the formal tertiary education.

In the case of the architectural profession in Zambia, graduating students of architecture are expected to sit for the Professional Competence Examination (PCE) after attaining at least two years of practical experience.

The institute is, however, concerned at the pass rate which, of late has been around 49 per cent and to make things worse, the highest failure rate has been recorded in the design paper which is the core of any architectural training and practice.

It is recognised that practical training is gained in the field but grasping basic architectural design principles as an intellectual process is a classroom issue and, therefore, the Copperbelt University and other learning institutions offering architectural education need to be brought on board.

The ZIA has copies of correspondence between the Copperbelt University and the Commonwealth Association of Architects which go back to 1996 where recommendations were made meant to prepare the university for a visit by the Commonwealth Association of Architects as laid out under the "Objectives and Procedures of CAA Schools Visiting Board Guidelines for Part 1 Accreditation".

Under that report by George Wilson, then executive director of CAA, it was recommended that ZIA should be allowed to monitor the implementation of the recommendations by Copperbelt University.

This is also one of the tasks the new ZIA Council is supposed to liaise with Copperbelt University administration and the concerned ministry.

Architectural technicians have a critical role to play in the preparation of building assembly drawings as they are expected to understand and appreciate the quality and type of product the architect intends to produce. The architect/technician relationship may be likened to the doctor/nurse relationship in the provisions of quality services.

The concern on the quality of training being offered to architectural technician is, therefore, justified and the Institute would explore ways and means of harnessing architectural technicians as well as liaise with those institutions offering training to ensure that their graduates do meet the minimum standards in the current construction industry.

Although such artisans as plumbers, painters, brick layers, glaziers are usually employed directly by contractors, the quality of their output has a direct impact on the quality of the final architectural product.

There are currently so-called brick layers who have failed to construct a truly vertical two metre high wall, or plumbers whose only evidence of expertise is moving around town with a wrench spanner, or indeed painters who when asked to paint a wall would paint anything and everything found in their way including electrical switches, door frames and window glass panes and are not concerned with paint mark trails left on the floor.

This has somehow given justification to contractors importing expatriate labour at the expense of our artisans and trades men again the overall effect is that Zambia ends up providing employment to outsiders contrary to what may have been political campaign promises.

It is important that such matters are addressed and resolved by all stake holders but initiation of talks aimed at resolving such matters needs to be by the ZIA whose members notice the deficiencies of these trades which ultimately tend to push up the cost of construction through correction of defects.

The institute is expected to undergo significant transformation externally as well as internally including sharpening the ability to bite those who flout or help flout the provisions of the Zambia Institute of Architects Act CAP 442 as well as The Copyrights and Performance Rights Act CAP 406 of the Laws of Zambia.

Of course this is not an exhaustive listing of expectations from the new ZIA Council as to the general public this is an appeal to help restore sanity in our cities and towns whose condition of the built environment is not very far from that of a failed State.

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