The Zambia Institute of Architects (ZIA) has warned
the public against using foreign house plans because
these do not reflect prevailing local conditions.
ZIA president Bwalya Masabo said the tendency to use
plans off the internet was contributing to sub-standard
designs because most of the perpetrators are not registered to practice architecture.
“It has been quite a challenge in the sense that we have
had a lot of people who are not registered trying to
practice architecture. Am sure you have been seeing
some advertisements being stuck on walls on Facebook
offering very cheap services,” he said.
Mr. Masabo described this problem as one of the major challenges that the profession is facing because the
imported plans do not necessarily reflect Zambia’s local
conditions in terms of lighting, power, orientation and
the general design.
“When you are designing a house or building as an
architect, you have to take into consideration the cultural and functional requirements of the area you are
designing for,” he said.
Mr. Masabo said this problem has led to the rise of
sub-standard buildings coming up and eventually
collapsing as happened recently in Lusaka.
Upon investigation, the ZIA found that none of its
members were involved .
He said although people think they could be saving
money by downloading plans off the internet, ultimately there were just putting their buildings at great
risk of disaster.
Meanwhile, Mr. Masabo has encouraged individuals to
not only seek architectural services but to fully involve
architects in supervision.
He said clients who only use architects to do the drawings, are forced to rely on their builders who are not
trained to understand the structural requirements of
“This means you could have a design well done by an
architect but not supervised by an architect.When it
comes to construction, what comes out is something
else and not exactly what the architect envisioned,” the
ZIA president said.
Below are some excerpts from the interview:
BN: What level of involvement should your architect
have on your project?
Masabo: Ideally when you are engaging an architect,
you should agree on his level of involvement in your
project. The first section of the project obviously is
design. The supervision is independent, so it’s not
mandatory that the architect should be on site for supervision. However, we would like it to be mandatory
though we are mindful about whether the client can
manage to sustain the architect being on site throughout .
BN:Is it not too expensive to keep an architect
throughout your project?
Masabo: People imagine that it’s actually very expensive to have an architect on site. It’s not expensive. It’s
like an insurance policy. You can agree on him coming
to check on your project at critical stages if finances are a challenge. If you looked at the amount you
have to pay compared to the value of the project you
are putting up, you find that it’s actually 2 per cent.
Architectural fees for supervision are 2 per cent of the
construction value. For a car, you actually pay 7 to 8
percent for comprehensive insurance. So what is 2 per
cent of insurance guaranteeing you the right building
with an architect’s involvement?
BN: So it’s not mandatory now to have an architect
throughout the project?
Masabo: It’s not mandatory but we would like it to
be mandatory and we would like people to see it as a
necessity. The architect does not give you a builder.
You as a client engages the builder or the contractor.
What the architect does is help you identify the right
contractor but even that is a bit flawed because once
they get drawings from the architect, certain clients do
away with the architect. However, the clients must be
guided to involve the architect throughout the process.
BN: What do you do in the event of the architect
breaking an agreement to be present throughout the
Masabo: If you engage an architect and he abandons
the project, that’s professional misconduct and in such
a case you can report to the ZIA so that we take up
BN: What should be the frequency of the architect’s
visits to the site?
Masabo: That is dependent on the type of project you
are talking about. It could be an office building, school
or house. Some projects like banks are fast-track and
could be done within six or seven weeks. So those
are usually tied to time and not stage. It also depends
on how good your contractor is. When left alone for
a considerable time, some contractors may not do as
BN: For the sake of the first-time builder, ideally at
what stages should you have an architect?
Masabo: Ideally at set-out, you need the architect.
When you are setting out the building, the architect
has to be there to help you ensure that the building
sits according to the plan and the boundary. At foundation digging you need the architect’s involvement.
Your builder will probably draw the lines and dig
everything but you need an architect to inspect the
trenches before you pour in the concrete. When you
pour the concrete and you set out the block work
for the foundation, the architect needs to inspect
to ensure the foundation is done according to the
drawing. At slab level, the architect has to ensure the
foundation has been done according to the standard
specifications. Actually, the architect has to be there
throughout the process.The only issue is agreeing on
time-related visits. Should there be an emergency, the
architect can still make an unscheduled visit to resolve
whatever problem could have cropped up.Such an
impromptu request should not be a problem because
architects are passionate about their buildings. When
the project comes out right, it’s a selling point for the
BN: So do the fees start kicking in when inspection
commences at the various stages?
Masabo: There are two ways in which you can bill for supervision. You can put a blanket fee or percentage
to cover the whole process which is usually 2 per cent
of the construction cost and the architect can be paid
either monthly or at the beginning of the project or
towards the end of the project.It’s on a case by case basis depending on what the client and architect discuss.
Secondly, you can pay hourly rates and keep a record
of how long the architect stays on site and you pay
for those specific times. So I strongly advise clients to
engage architects throughout because the cost of doing
so is minimal compared to a disaster happening on
site. Should that happen, the cost of repairing is usually huge and may even involve demolishing the whole
building. So the word we are trying to put out to the
public is that architects are actually very affordable.
BN: Does the ZIA have the capacity to monitor who
is a registered architect and who is not?
Masabo: To start with, if you want to build, you must
find out if the person you are about to engage is registered as an architect. The onus is really on you to safeguard your investment. Every registered architect has
a practice identity card or license valid for a year that
they can show you to prove that they are registered.
Secondly, we have an inspectorate department at the
institute which is basically set up to inspect construction projects going on in the country and ensure that
the right consultants are on these projects. That’s our
way of trying to enforce the ZIA Act.
BN: Is this enforcement capacity adequate?
Masabo: Honestly, it (inspectorate) was only set up in
2019 and we are still growing it. This is when we are
going flat out and in addition to that, we are signing a
Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with institutions like the National Construction Council (NCC)
so that we collaborate in safeguarding or regulating
BN: How else do you regulate the industry?
Masabo:The other way in which we are regulating the
industry is through the use of planning authorities and
local councils with whom we have been in discussion
for an MOU. Actually, the public and health acts state
that only drawings done by architects should be approved for construction to get planning permission. So
the councils are our eyes on the ground for anybody
submitting for planning permission. I must say some
councils are very assertive when it comes to that but
then we still have a lot of work with other councils to enforce this.
BN: How do you look at the registration of foreign
Masabo: The issue of foreign architectural firms coming to Zambia to offer architectural services is actually
agreeable. We are okay with that but we only give a
condition that the foreign firm has to be in partnership with a local firm. Such partnership is important
because that firm could be coming, for instance, from
a Scandinavian country where local conditions are
very different from a tropical country.
So there is need to partner with a local firm to give
certain guidance on conditions and regulations they
have to follow in the design. ZIA is not against foreign
firms practicing in Zambia but we want to promote
joint ventures with the local firms. This is also important for sharing ideas and knowledge transfer. Similarly, if a Zambian went to South Africa or any other country, they will not be allowed to practice architecture unless they are in a joint venture with a local firm
in that respective country.
BN: What activities are being undertaken to increase
the registration of architects?
Masabo: Registration of architects. It’s good that you
have asked about that. For you to be registered as an
architect, you have to have been at the university and
have a degree in architecture. Before you are registered, you have to practice in Zambia for two years
under a registered architect. You are then required to
sit for your professional competence examination.
That’s how you get registered.
On top of that, we have realized that there are other
people who don’t have degrees but they have diplomas
in architecture, advanced diplomas and certificates in
drafting or architecture.
Then we also have others masquerading to be interior designers and sketch designers. So as an institute,
we are in the process of revising our Act so that it is
all-encompassing and allow us regulate all these professionals and not just limit it to degree holders.
So our revised Act is envisaged to have technologists,
technicians and draftsmen. We will work out regulations on what they can do or cannot do. So in that
way we shall also grow our membership.
BN: So you will just graduate the membership?
Masabo: Yes we will just graduate it and that also
helps the public in having a wider array of people they
BN: So currently are these the ones who are, if I may
use the term, practicing illegally?
Masabo: I can’t really categorise them because they
come in all colours, shapes and sizes.Some don’t even
have any qualifications to do with architecture and
they are probably just looking for money and that
makes the public susceptible to conmen. Some will
just come because maybe they have a plan that they
saw somebody do and they will just keep on photocoping the plan and changing the name and giving it
Some may have a basic knowledge of technical drawing and believe they can draw a plan. However, design
is not just about technical drawing, it’s not just about
lines. You have to understand the proportions, functions and like I said earlier, culture.
BN: So what are you doing to bring these ill qualified
people to book and protect the public?
Masabo: We have a disciplinary committee and when
we get reports or find out someone is performing architectural services in that sense, we actually summon
them. After a hearing, we either fine them or take
them to court.It is actually punishable by law.
BN: Do you have a number of such cases you have
handled of late?
Masabo: I don’t have the number off hand but we
have been having a lot of them.
BN: Mr president, thank you very much for giving us
an opportunity to share this important information
with our readers.
Masabo:It was my pleasure and we are also grateful
you have helped us reach out to the public.
Contributor: Evans Milimo
This article originally appeared in Build Now, 7th Edition, Volume 1. February to May 2021