Woman makes mark in architecture

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refiloeBy Tsitsi Matope

MASERU — After qualifying as an architectural drafting and designing technologist at the Lerotholi Polytechnic in 2009, a 25-year-old Refiloe Hape Molefi could not imagine the immense opportunities that lay ahead.

Her graduation after three years of study came at a time when some new and well-planned settlements such as Ha Matala and Thetsane were sprouting in the capital Maseru.

As a result, her skills, which included production of residential and commercial construction drawings using Computer Aided Design (CAD) and building information modelling (BIM) technology, became of utmost importance to many aspiring homeowners.

A few months after qualifying as an architectural technologist, the only female graduate in her class was immediately employed by one of the few biggest architectural designing companies in the country.

And for three years, she worked hard and got the experience she desperately needed —which was working in a large corporate where the majority of workers also happened to be men.

Here she was introduced to the new industry-standard software tools that further primed her for future challenges.

“I had the opportunity to appreciate the importance of efficiency in the practice, the fundamental nature of designing and importance of crafting sustainable designs,” Molefi said in an interview on Tuesday this week.

Putting into practice verification of construction compliance procedures and how to research construction materials, equipment, building codes and also understanding some engineering principles, estimations, and professional practices was also part of her grooming process.

Despite her employment, which brought experience and excitement, Molefi’s passion to establish her own company did not somehow die in her newly found excitement.

A company of her own, she had thought countless times, would provide her the opportunity to put her skills to the test.

“In 2011, I realised the property development boom was here to stay and started preparing my exit from my previous company. Every day after work and during weekends, I would sit at home and do my own designs. I experimented a lot to see how far I could go,” Molefi said.

After compiling a lot of housing and commercial building drawings, she one day, took her work for display at one local shopping mall.

The exhibition was well received and this subsequently influenced Molefi too, a few months later, quit her job.

In March 2012, she took a bold step and registered her own company, The Mole Investment Holdings — an undertaking that marked the beginning of her journey in the architectural drafting sector.

“When I started operating last year, the biggest challenge was earning the trust of the market. It did not take much time before I realised that, one good design can indeed bring me more clients. As a result, “excellence” in my designing became my hallmark. I also had to develop the ability to read the minds of my clients. I was quick to grasp that, a good number of people are not always sure of what they want. Therefore, it is up to me as the expert, to go an extra mile to understand their needs and make them happy.”

Currently, she said two and three-bedroomed housing plans are much sought after.

“A significant number of prospective homeowners look at the affordability of implementing a particular housing plan or design. It is not wise to have a grand, mansion-like plan, which at the end of the day, one would struggle to build. Many people now understand this and they prefer plans that are simple and modest”.

She explained despite a high demand for simple plans, there is also an average market for four and five-bedroomed houses and a small market for double-storey buildings for both residential and commercial purposes.

“Tastes or choices are usually influenced by one’s budget but a good architectural technologist understands that the most important factor is coming up with a good design that has also considered the functionality of the property with regards to the purpose it is meant for,” she said.

Molefi further explained that although understanding the market trends remains critical, innovation is what makes the work of some architectural technologists stand out.

“Innovation always works in the area of architectural designing because many prospective homeowners are fascinated about new and exclusive plans tailor-made for them. What we call market trends, is also a result of other architects’ innovations — they dare to come up with new design concepts and manage to convince the market to react positively,” Molefi said.

She further explained that, what has so far put some icing on the promising architectural technology sector was how the banks and the Maseru City Council have made housing and commercial construction plans a requirement before one could get a home loan and a building permit in the case of the council.

“This has created a fairly good market for architectural technologists. It also helped to create understanding on the importance of having proper housing plans unlike in the past when people would just make their own rough sketches.”

She said the appreciation of professional planning was going to help ensure correct orientations, such as the direction of the sun, wind, electricity and water infrastructure and various activities around the site among other factors are incorporated during construction.

“Consistency in prioritising planned constructions is also going to help stimulate the industry and help create more employment opportunities for some architectural technologists who are currently unemployed,” she said.

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