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Quantity Surveying

The Quantity Surveying profession dates back to the Bible, in terms of Luke, chapter 14:28, which reads “For which of you, intending to build a tower, sits not down first and counts the cost to see whether he will have sufficient to finish it?” (Bowles & Le Roux, 1992: 4).

Throughout the construction of the pyramids and temples of ancient Egypt the quantity surveyor was called the “measurer of royal works” (Bowles & Le Roux, 1992: 4). The term “quantity surveyor” was first recorded in 1859 (Kiran, 2009). Today, the quantity surveyor is known by many other names such as ‘construction cost consultant’, ‘building economist’, ‘construction accountant’ and ‘contractual and procurement specialist’ (Ashworth et al., 2013: 19).

According to Buys (2004: 2), the first quantity surveying practise was established in England in 1785 by the firm of Henry Cooper and sons.

During the medieval times, competition as it is known today did not exist. As this element of competition was eventually introduced, contractors discovered that there was a remarkable amount of measuring and calculation involved in order to arrive at a competitive tender figure. As every contractor interpreted the drawings differently, tenders were not calculated on a uniform basis (Bowles & Le Roux, 1992: 4). Furthermore, each individual builder experienced excess overhead costs because of time spent on quantification in calculating his tender figure.

This lead to the introduction of the quantity surveyor to act on behalf of all tenderers, as an unbiased, independent measurer and quantifier of the required building materials, with the surveyor’s fee to be shared amongst the contractors (Buys, 2004: 2).

The client and architect realised that they could benefit from such a professional, by employing the quantity surveyor as a construction economist and cost consultant. During the 1960’s cost planning was added to the quantity surveyor’s list of services to avoid tenders that are over budget.

In the 1970’s quantity surveying practises shifted in size towards either the larger or smaller end of the spectrum (Langford & Male, 2001: 36).

During the 1980’s the development of new procurement methods and forms of contract constantly redefined the role of the quantity surveyor within the design team (Langford & Male, 2001: 36), posing a threat to the architect, in all areas except for design. This resulted in a change in client buying behaviour with respect to quantity surveyor’s services. Quantity surveying practises started to experience an increase in competition, not only between consulting firms, but also with other professions (Langford & Male, 2001: 37).

The early development of the quantity surveying profession in South-Africa was first sparked by the change within the economic system, from being solely agricultural to a system where mining became increasingly important (Maritz & Siglé, 2010: 1).  Architects, mainly from Britain, flocked to Johannesburg and Pretoria and other developing towns. These first architects were forced to either issue their own quantities or employ other architects to handle the tendering and contracting procedure on their behalf (Maritz and Siglé, 2010: 2).  Eventually, the first fully qualified quantity surveyor arrived in South Africa in the beginning of 1896 (Maritz & Siglé, 2010: 2).

Written by Janita Stroebel


Ashworth, A.,Hogg, K. & Higgs, C. 2013. Willis’s Practise and Procedure for the Quantity Surveyor. 13th Ed. West Sussex: John Wiley & Sons Ltd.

Bowles, J.E. & Le Roux, G.K. 1992. Quantity Surveying: An Introduction. 2nd Ed. Centrahill: QS Publications.

Buys, F. 2004. Measuring Building Work: Worked Examples. Port Elizabeth: F Buys.

Kiran, T. 2009. Brief History of Quantity Surveying.  [02 July 2015].

Langford, D. & Male, S. 2001. Strategic Management in Construction. 2nd Ed. London: Blackwell Science Ltd.

Contact information
Prof Gerrit Crafford
Associate Professor
Tel: 27822630442