By Benjamin Brits
Nomfundo Vilakazi, mechanical engineer and green star accredited professional: new buildings – at WSP Africa, finds great interest to pursue things she’s curious about – like HVAC sustainability.
Vilakazi’s youth was spent in and around Johannesburg, where she attended primary and secondary school. She then proceeded to study pure mathematics and statistics through the University of South Africa. Thereafter she opted to explore and experience the scenes of the Cape and studied mechanical engineering at the University of Cape Town.
Straight out of university, she was employed at WSP as an energy modeller tasked to build 3D models of buildings, run simulations and extract information around designs. Mostly, information of interest had to do with energy consumption.
“I have always been a numbers person – intrigued by the amount of information that those models could generate. They would generally show that the HVAC system is a major contributor towards energy consumption and that is what ignited my curiosity about HVAC systems and their application. Fortunately for me, I had the opportunity to make a lateral move within WSP and it’s one I’m glad I embraced as I could apply most of what I had learnt prior around sustainability to HVAC systems. That satisfaction leads into what I like most about my work – being involved throughout the project lifecycle – seeing a project come to life, the various interactions with stakeholders along the way, and how each interaction impacts outcomes.”
One of her most significant achievements she says was the opportunity to lead the Green Star certification of a mixed use development using her knowledge to advise the team on interventions to reduce energy use. The building obtained its certification and she is very proud of that!
Outside of work, she enjoys hiking and being out in nature (something she values much more after lockdown). She is also a keen reader and spending time with her family and friends is important too.
Responding to a question around clients adopting better and greener technologies, her view is that the hesitance in these aspects comes about because such technology has a higher up-front cost than the available alternatives. However, regardless of this, better sustainability is definitely worth pursuing – especially in this industry as one can see the benefits in monetary terms through operation and maintenance elements that are highly impactful over time. More so, clients can contribute towards building resilient communities with buildings that will be around for a good 30 year timeline, and reduce impacts onto the energy grid.
“We spend a lot of time in buildings these days when you think about it – we work, we play, we engage healthcare specialists, we learn and may even go to the gym, so it’s important that all our buildings are not harmful to the environment, or the people that occupy them.”
Looking into the crystal ball of the future, Vilakazi says that she is quite excited for “Construction 4.0” and believes there is a lot that can be achieved. “AI and ML technology is being used to set up predictive maintenance, and augment monitoring in building systems. I think we will see a lot happening in not only the 3D realm, but also 4D and 5D (meaning real time and costs) that will significantly improve project workflow, efficiency, digital integrations, and health and safety aspects. We can also look forward to the ability to reduce incidents and conflicts. Tech though, can produce great collaborations or become a hinderance. It can definitely be applied positively, but negative impacts are a reality and therefore comprehensive regulations would likely need to be established for scenarios of the future,” she concluded.