With the advent of technology, a world has become a much smaller place. The challenge of course is to shape it in a positive way. As the globe has shrunk, the number of global corporations has increased. Among its numbers sits Arup, the world leading construction organisation with a simple mantra: “We shape a better world”.
Earlier this summer The SA-Mag featured an interview with the Executive Mayor of Tshwane Municipality, Kgosientso Ramokgopa, who outlined plans for construction on a number of projects, aimed at improving the region’s economy. Foremost among those plans was Tshwane Precinct Masterplanning Project, which has appointed Arup as the urban designer and planning team.
The company, with its world headquarters in London, was founded in 1946 by Sir Ove Arup and initially had a focus on structural engineering, as Damane Hlalele, Southern African leader describes: “Arup first came to the world’s attention with the structural design of the Sydney Opera House, followed by its work on the Centre Pompidou in Paris. Arup has since grown into a truly multidisciplinary organisation. Arup’s work for the 2008 Olympics in Beijing and the 2012 Olympics in London has reaffirmed its reputation for delivering innovative and sustainable design that reinvents the built environment.”
Today Arup is an independent firm of designers, planners, engineers, consultants and technical specialists offering a broad range of professional services. The company has maintained a presence in Africa for over 60 years and operates offices in Botswana, Mauritius, Nigeria, South Africa and Zimbabwe.
Its success (in 2011 the African business generated turnover in excess of R741 million) stems from three practices: Consulting, Buildings and Infrastructure. These practices then have different business units associated with them, such as environmental consulting, which sits within consulting, and Mechanical, Electrical, Plumbing (MEP) services which sits within the buildings practice or mining which sits within infrastructure.
“In addition, we have and continue to deliver projects in Angola, DRC, Ghana, Kenya, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, Tanzania, Swaziland, Uganda and Zambia. Arup has undergone continuous growth and expansion in Africa and our staff complement currently stands at approximately 600 people in Africa, supported by a global team of over 9,000” adds Hlalele.
The company works with a variety of clients on projects of all shapes and sizes. Arup was recently appointed as sustainability consultants on the 21,000 square metre Cape Town International Convention Centre (CTICC) expansion project, which aims to demonstrate world leadership through innovative integrated sustainability. The firm also worked as development managers on the OR Tambo Midfield.
Whilst the Sydney Opera House stands as testament to Arup’s capabilities, there are any number of major projects across Africa that equally serve to endorse the company. Among these are iconic structures, such as the Mauritius Commercial Bank in Mauritius, the tower in Johannesburg that is synonymous with the Johannesburg skyline, and Pearls of Umhlanga in Durban.
Infrastructure remains a high priority across the continent and Arup has played a leading role in projects in Gautrain where it acted as the Independent Certifiers; and at the Grootegeluk mine expansion, where the company provided civil and structural design. In Johannesburg, the Melrose Arch complex, a 310,000 square metre mixed use development which is part of the Greater Johannesburg Metropolitan Council’s development strategy, saw Arup undertake an economic impact analysis which played an important role in securing the development rights for the entire project.
The acquisition of rights was followed by the joint appointment of Osmond Lange, urban planners and architects, and Arup to develop a concept and deliver the first phase of the precinct.
Aside from its work with Tshwane, Arup has also built a strong reputation as a consultant company and lists the Queen Mamohatho Hospital in Lesotho among its principal successes in Africa.
Arup’s African operations stem from its Johannesburg offices and the company has an interesting and unique structure and culture, which, as Hlalele describes, has an impact on its design:
“We bring together broad-minded individuals from a wide range of disciplines and encourage them to look beyond the constraints of their own specialisms. This unconventional approach to design springs in part from Arup’s ownership structure. The firm is owned in trust on behalf of its staff and as a result we have an independence of spirit that is reflected in the firm’s work, and in its dedicated pursuit of technical excellence.
“Arup was founded on an enduring set of values which fosters a distinctive culture and an intellectual independence that encourages collaborative working. This is reflected in everything we do, allowing us to develop meaningful ideas, help shape agendas and deliver results. Through our innovative and fully-integrated approach, which brings our full complement of skills and knowledge to bear on any given design problem, we exert a significant influence on the built environment. We are the creative force behind many of the world’s most innovative and sustainable designs,” he asserts.
There are of course many challenges to overcome, when operating as a global business; among these are understanding languages, local culture, utilising local supply chain and understanding local laws. These issues are not unknown to Arup within Africa, but the reward makes such challenges worthwhile, as Hlalele explains:
“The construction industry is highly dependant on the country you are in, the policies of that government, and the global economy. The principal risks and uncertainties facing Arup include foreign exchange risk and risk resulting from the diverse geographical spread of its business and its ability to continue to secure new projects and deliver the performance of existing projects in line with management’s objectives.
“That said the African region is particularly exciting at the moment. As cities and businesses develop across Africa, specialist engineers are in the unique position to be able to develop new solutions, without too much retro-fitting required. The African landscape is not as urbanised or industrialised as, say, the European landscape. This offers engineers the opportunity to develop cleaner and greener solutions to urban and business development. Urban planning can be developed with greater insight and long term planning.”
Hlalele says that one of the major factors that sets Arup apart from a highly competitive industry is its ability and willingness to address sustainability head on and work closely with clients to develop creative solutions. This was perhaps best exemplified by the company’s work with South Africa’s Green Building Council in 2008.
“Arup’s clients and partners are recognising the importance of embedding the concepts of sustainability into their strategic thinking: not just because it is the right thing to do, but as an essential element in developing business models that can deliver tangible, long-term economic, environmental and social benefits,” he affirms.
“Our goal is to help our clients make that transition toward more sustainable solutions and opens a window on to just some of the ways in which we are helping to drive positive change and live up to our mission of shaping a better world.
“Arup was commissioned by the Green Building Council of South Africa in March 2008 to carry out research and benchmarking for the customisation of the Australian Green Star Offices Tool to the South African environment. As a result we successfully developed the first Green Star SA rating tool – Green Star office version 1 (Design and As-built versions). This tool provided the South African property sector with an objective measurement standard for commercial buildings.
“Since then, Arup has been engaged with the GBCSA for the customisation of the Australian residential tool for the South African market namely, Green Star SA Multi-Unit Residential, which was launched in October of last year.”
Recognising Arup’s commitment to this important and evolving area, the Government recently awarded the company “Preferred Bidder Status” (effectively generation licenses) under the Renewable Energy Independent Power Producer Procurement Programme (REIPPPP).
Of the 18 large scale photovoltaic (PV) projects and eight wind projects that were awarded, Arup is providing either Owners’ Engineer or Lenders Technical Advisory services to seven of the PV projects and one of the wind projects.
Such projects very much present an eye to the future. It is a future challenged by a shortage of the right skills within the development sector, something Arup aims to address through its Arup Education Trust (AET), established in 2010.
The company also invests heavily in its graduates and provides extensive training, as Hlalele explains: “We use every channel from e-learning to skills networks, tutorials, job shadowing, mentoring, and face-to-face. We fuel those channels with a substantial proportion of our profits each year, reinvesting in the intellectual capital of those who work with and for us. Arup is a learning organisation. Personal development is at the heart of our determination to be an employer of choice.”
So what of the future? Arup is a company with a rich history of innovation and prestige, so how does Hlalele envisage driving the business forward?
“The future for Arup holds many opportunities within the region. In the developing world, specifically Africa, there are a number of countries who will require our services over time. There is a clear need to transform our urban spaces to accommodate the influx of rural inhabitants to the cities. As the demands of these growing urban economies, and it’s inhabitants increase, so do the requirements on dwindling water and electricity resources. This calls for innovative solutions. Arup has a large body of experience and knowledge within this space and we are excited to work within the African context.
“Arup’s work in the built environment leaves a significant legacy to subsequent generations. This power, to design and influence the built environment, carries with it a responsibility to do the best possible job for current and future generations. Putting sustainability at the heart of its projects is one of the ways in which Arup exerts a positive influence on the wider world. Investing in research and development is another: without such investment, innovation can be stifled. Without the capacity to innovate, our ability to combat the effects of climate change and other global issues would be compromised.”
All of which helps Arup to shape that better world.