ASHRAE – a short history lesson

By Russell Hattingh, ASHRAE SA secretary

Every good story needs a beginning; ours started at its very core way back in 1894. Pretty impressive right? What’s more impressive is why ASHRAE started and why it continues to exist today…

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Russell Hattingh, ASHRAE SA secretary, during the official chartering of the local chapter in July last year.

Well, if you’re reading this article it’s because of folks like you. You’re insatiably and incurably curious. Someone who wants to learn about the world around us and perhaps even be an active participant in adding to the journals in the great library of knowledge to share hard science and good practice selflessly with humanity. Well, perhaps a narrower audience than all of humanity but certainly those interested in understanding and influencing their environment.

ASHRAE has come a long way in the past 100 or so years. Apart from having an impressive set of documents, journals and standards to draw upon ASHRAE has expanded its target audience. While the name suggests the ‘American Society’ they have become a global organisation with thousands of active members, and many subject matter experts, all over the world. Can you imagine the collective knowledge! So, how does a voluntary organisation gain such a large following? We offer a good product for starters. That counts for a lot, sure, but there are individuals within any organisation, society or tea party that make things happen.

Structures explained

Before we kick off with the history lesson its worth mentioning how ASHRAE is structured. Local ASHRAE communities are necessary as the world is a big place. Heck, the US is a big place and one single community would be unmanageable. So, ASHRAE developed chapters, which are typically regionalised groups of members. The community or chapter could comprise a state or even a country’s members. Each chapter reports to a region that is responsible for multiple chapters. The region reports to ASRHAE head office. Sound complicated? Chapter – region – ASHRAE HQ. Easy peasy. There are most assuredly layers of complication, like any global entity, but that’s the structure in a nutshell.

The South African story

Back to the individuals that make things happen. In the case of the South African Chapter it all started when one of our regional leadership members, Farooq Mehboob, discussed the idea of forming a chapter in South Africa with Stephen Gill, a fellow regional leader from the UK.

South Africa already had more than 120 members, so Mehboob was convinced that it was high time ASHRAE be more active in South Africa. Following a conspiratorial discussion with Gill at the Summer Conference in June 2017, Gill was tasked with kick starting discussions with the local South African members to determine the level of interest in forming a chapter. He duly contacted each and every member in South Africa and received favourable responses. Go team South Africa!

But feeling the water is not the same as swimming. ASHRAE wanted swimmers, not wet toes. Between Mehboob and Gill, they then started engaging with interested members. Tim Wentz, a past ASHRAE president was brought in once a group of interested parties had been assembled. Richard Humphrey, Olu Soluade, Dawie Kriel, Dick Morkel, Adele van der Walt, Jochie van der Merve, Pauline Prinsloo, George Arnold and Russell Hattingh agreed to embark on this exploratory adventure.

This is but the beginning

On 27 July 2018 the South African Chapter was chartered. So, this is where our history really begins. We have a clean slate and need to start making our own stories. We need to fill the history pages not with promises but with completed deeds that have our members looking back and saying, ‘good times’. We have some work to do and, so far, we have been getting all the necessary things in place.

We’re already accredited with the Engineering Council of South Africa (ECSA), we have started delivering on our commitment to provide high quality technical talks and have four talks under our belts already.

By the time this article goes to print that number will have grown considerably. We continue to grow our members, enlist students and share our knowledge with our local community. We look forward to the participation of South African Young Engineers in regional expos and the possibility of funding for research for our universities. We hope to be participants in improving our national standards, together with local experts, and to leverage the good practices that ASHRAE, as a global community, has so thoroughly documented in the ASHRAE standards.

And we hope that you will join us on this journey. It’s certainly got the potential to be great if – as a community of interested engineers and professionals – we put the effort in and keep the passion!



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