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ACG Architects and Development Planners: Hassan Asmal

Cape Town company delivers Creative architecture, responsible social development.

Juliet Pitman

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Hassan Asmal of ACG Architects and Development Planners

Hassan Asmal, a founder member of ACG Architects andDevelopment Planners, believes that his company’s approach to problem-solvingis what differentiates it from the competition. Asmal says he and his teamalways strive for the best and seek out ways to add value to whatever they do.It’s an attitude that has paid off for the practice. ACG was awarded the SouthAfrican Institute of Architects (SAIA) Award for Excellence for the HartleyvaleSports Stadium in 1998. In 2002 Asmal received the South African BlackTechnical and Allied Careers Organisation (SABTACO) Joint Initiative Awardfirst prize for leadership in the Unicity Council Chamber Project for the Cityof Cape Town,and the SAIA Award of Merit was conferred on the practice for the Unicityproject in 2003. His practice was also part of an association of firms thatreceived an Award of Merit for the Cape Town International Conference Centre.

ACG has earned several merit and regional awards for anumber of other projects too, and has expertise in low-cost housing andcommunity development projects which engage the people whose lives are impactedby the developments. The participation of stakeholders results in the deliveryof briefs that are both creative and unique, addressing organisationaldevelopment and strategic planning needs in a way that is truly holistic. “We are proud of thesteady growth of the practice in sometimes difficult circumstances,” saysAsmal. “In the time since its launch, ACG has trained and empowered a number ofcolleagues who have become practitioners in their own right.”ACG was started in 1994 by Asmal, who had headed up his ownpractice until then, Malcolm Campbell, head of the Peninsula School of Architectureat the time, and a third partner who has since left the business. The threedecided to pool their resources and create a larger entity so that they couldattract bigger projects.

ACG received some initial funding from a bank, but growthwas financed with the income the business made. Asmal says he and his partnersadopted a very conservative approach to financing and did not expose the newbusiness to any major risks. “It is unwise to take unnecessary risks that could result inpressure that you do not need and that compromise your efforts when you mostneed to succeed,” Asmal says. ACG began operating from the premises of Asmal’s previouspractice which rented office space in Woodstock. “Private clients contracted us for houses, alterations and additions.Because of our empowerment credentials, we were also awarded a number of largerprojects by the state and parastatals.”

Ironically, these credentials were to pose one of thebiggest early challenges for ACG. “We were appointed as the architects on ahigh profile project, the Hartleyvale Hockey Stadium for the Cape Town Olympicbid, in a joint venture shortly after we had joined forces. We needed to showour capabilities while we were still establishing ourselves. We also had torise above the perception that we were chosen because of our empowermentprofile and we had to demonstrate right away that we were capable of producingquality work.” Hassan and Campbell have built the business on a foundationof honesty and integrity, and they believe in being transparent and upfront inwhatever they do.Taking care of their team is a priority. “Look after yourstaff and colleagues, obviously within the constraints of your budget andabilities, show respect and do not underestimate anyone,” says Asmal. “We havefound that great ideas and suggestions can come from the most unexpectedquarters.”With a R9 million turnover in 2007, Asmal says the futurelooks exciting. The practice is in the process of setting up offices in otherparts of the country and is also investigating the feasibility of aninternational alliance.

“We are committed to making a contribution to thedevelopment of our country. Given our background and our history, we willcontinue to honour our community responsibilities, especially where developmentin previously disadvantaged areas is concerned.”

Contact: +27 21 448 6615; www.acgarchitects.co.za

Juliet Pitman is a features writer at Entrepreneur Magazine.

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