SA's architects and specifiers never quite catch up with the products that latest technology makes available, says Building Centre GM

Talking to a group of visiting upcountry building developers/contractors who are planning an on-going residential development with a large number of units, Jamie Heathcote-Marks, General Manager of the Cape Town Building Centre, said that it was ‘encouraging’ to see developers and their architects actually checking out what is available on the market by visiting a venue such as the Building Centre, which has some 200 exhibits.

“I do not,” he said, “want to be over-critical about specifiers for building developments at a time when bank finance is so hard to get and so few schemes are able to get off the ground - and when global financial problems further delay the recovery. Nevertheless, it does always surprise me how those who sell themselves to the public as being with-it and up-to-date in their developments tend to stick to a range of tried and tested products, even when far better, less expensive options have become available.”

Frequently, said Heathcote-Marks, the specifiers are not even aware of what has been developed in recent years and fail to take the trouble to investigate - or, if they do, rely purely on printed material and the visits of representatives.

“There is,” said Heathcote-Marks, “absolutely no substitute for seeing and touching a product - which is why the Building Centre remains popular to this day. It has to be said, however, that only 30% of Cape Town’s architects make a point of coming here regularly to update themselves on what is now on the market.”

South African building product manufacturers, said Heathcote-Marks, have to compete with the big firms in Europe and the Far East which, with their enormous turnovers, even on unfavourable exchange rates can sell their products at very low prices and, as in the case of China, are sometimes helped by the country’s export dumping policies which allow their manufacturers to sell overseas at below cost.

“Many of these products are exceptionally good and we feature them at the Building Centre,” said Heathcote-Marks, “but what I regret is the tendency these days to look first to China and to ignore some of the world-beating products that have been developed here in South Africa.”

In recent weeks the Building Centre has run media promotions on wooden and wood replica flooring, a new walling system, waterproofing, fireplaces, blinds, security systems, home lifts, bamboo and other products - and they will soon be promoting solar heating systems, window systems and other products.

“Whether imported or locally made,” said Heathcote-Marks, “there are today many good products available that South African specifiers should be more regularly in contact with us to keep themselves updated and able to supply their clients with better and often less expensive alternatives.”

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