Addis Fortune (Addis Ababa)

10 February 2013

Ethiopia: Architectural Faults

Building designs with defects are common in the City as clients turn to cheaper alternatives in order to save money.

Abel Seifu, 39, a business owner, was at Addis Ababa Building Licence & Control Bureau on Wednesday, February 6, 2013, to submit the final design that will allow him to build a six storey apartment, to be used as a guest house, on a 600sqm plot at Lebu, in Nifas Silk Lafto District.

The design, which he presented six months ago to the Bureau, was rejected because the architect he used had not included a detailed design. The design also failed to consider the results of a soil test, which could have led the building to collapse.

The first design for the apartment was prepared by a private junior architect at a cost of around 80,000 Br, which Abel says was drawn after using another apartment design as a reference point.

"I decided to hire a private architect at a low fee after a consulting company asked me close to 200,000 Br for a design," said Abel with regret. "My intention was to save my money for the construction of the building."

Abel contracted with a senior architect to add architectural, structural and electrical designs to the original design of the apartment building. The new architect also adjusted the plans so that the foundation would be three metres deep to accommodate the black soil found in the plot instead of the two metres that had been originally recommended.

Abel expects that the Bureau will now give him a licence to build.

Designs with defects are common, said Yitbarek Gebremedhin, head of the Bureau. "There are clients who bring us copies of designs that have already been submitted by other people" he told Fortune.

Yitbarek admitted that there is a gap in the Bureau and in district offices which creates room for corrupt workers to sell approved designs to other people. But the corruption is widespread: there are also consulting companies that give out copies of designs done for other clients so as to save costs on drawing up new designs, according to him.

Experts and industry observers agree with Yitbarek's opinion.

This goes against the ethics of the profession and the owners of the design which are the original clients, according to Damte Welde, general manager of Life Consult Plc.

This is due to the absence of copyright and legal recourse to those whose designs are used by another company or individual, according to Damte.

While designing a building, earthquakes and high wind levels are not a concern in Addis Abeba, said Yitbarek.

"However, live and building loads which are factors that are affected by the utilisation of the building are elements that architects must carefully consider during the design process".

For instance, office buildings will require different specifications compared to warehouses for machinery.

In order to ensure that safety measures are met, the Bureau oversees the designs for all buildings that are higher than six storeys, which was formerly done by the Ministry of Urban Development & Construction (MoUDC).

Designs for buildings under six storeys are approved at the District level, whereas, one storey buildings and houses, which only need structural design, are approved at the wereda level.

Districts are responsible for checking whether the proposed design fits in with the City's plan and is in the proper area allocated for businesses, hotels or residential areas. Meanwhile it is not responsible to clarify whether the site is occupied or if the soil is appropriate for construction, according to Biruk Tadese, electrical design controller at Kirkos District Building Licence & Control Department.

Despite the efforts of the Bureau some architects choose to ignore the guidelines that are established for designing houses and buildings.

Consulting companies ask for a higher price than the usual three percent, which used to be the going rate for companies drawing up designs, said Yitbarek.

This, according to the Head of the Addis Ababa Building Licence & Control Bureau, leads clients to seek for shortcuts and cheaper alternatives in the design phase.

Airports, bank headquarters and hospitals usually require complex designs and have higher project costs, when compared to shopping centres that have high costs but a relatively simple to design, said Damte.

"This makes it difficult to justify the pricing differences in design" the general manager added.

In order to avoid such discrepancies, the Ethiopian Architects & Consultants Association (EACA) submitted standard pricing proposals for designs and the fees for consultants to the MoUDC, for a second time, in 2007. However the MoUDC failed to approve the proposal stating that the country operates under the free market principle and architects may charge at the market rate, according to the letter sent by the MoUDC to the Association.

The proposal submitted by the Association had suggested paying 1,800 Br to graduate architectural engineers and 15,000 Br for senior practicing architectural engineers monthly, on average. However, architects have benefited from market based pricing and they currently earn a monthly income of 2,500 Br to 23,000 Br, on average.

Nowadays, consulting companies consider the number of engineers they deploy for architectural, structural, electrical and sanitary design works when calculating the design costs, according to managers of consulting companies and government officials.

The number of AutoCAD designers, who are responsible for translating hard copy designs to 3D images, and the amount of time it takes to design a project are also factored into a price that will enable most consulting companies to retain 10pc to 15pc of the total price as net profit, according to the proposal submitted by the Association.

However, some firms may ask significantly different prices for the same design, according to industry observers.

Depending on the building type, electro-mechanical designing may be required if there are to be lifts, fire safety plans and artificial ventilation so as to comply with building regulation which was issued by the Council of Ministers in May 2011.

This too, according to experts, can raise design costs.

Some design firms may also factor in overhead costs such as office rent, documentation and publishing costs, and professional wages which are calculated according to the total time taken, according to Damtew.

"These costs can account for the fee differences from company to company" he said.

Clients are responsible for negotiating with the firms over price. A consulting company in 'dark times' without any work at hand may take on a design project, while charging a minimum price so as to only cover its design costs.

Nevertheless, a company with a well-built reputation and designs at hand will usually scale up its design prices. This was the kind of company that Abel tried to negotiate with on his first design.

"Had I had time and known more about consulting companies, I could have selected a company that charged lower prices, for my design," he said.

There are exceptional buildings which are exalted for their designs and bring renown to a neighbourhood, according Damte.

"Such buildings promote the companies responsible for the design and in such cases the designs may be done for free or at a very low cost."

One such example is Breeze Consultancy Plc, owned by Yonas Haile and Elias Ayalew, which designed seven buildings, such as the Addis Abeba Traffic Bureau right after designing Haile Resort in Hawassa town four years ago.

"Our people only believe after seeing" said Yonas Haile, deputy manager of Breeze, when asked about how he built up his company's reputation.

There are close to 200 consulting companies in Addis Abeba, with levels ranging from five to one, according to data obtained from the Association. Accordingly, buildings with a projected cost of more than 50 million Br are recommended to be designed by a level one consultant.

The building quality inEthiopiais low with no aesthetic value, and the pricing standard is client based, not profession based, said Damte. "There are no buildings with creative designs or built with marbles or stones in the city, they are all adapted".

But, clients like Abel, do not have the slightest knowledge of architecture or wind effects. They simply want to erect building and conduct business.

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