By Mzukona Mantshontsho
NICO VAN DER MEULEN ARCHITECTS focuses on designing innovative, luxurious homes, both contemporary and traditional, tailored to the tastes and needs of the client.
The South African Professional Services Academy spoke to Lead Designer Phia van der Meulen about her personal and professional journey at the practice.
Tell us your brief history: academic, professional to your role Today
I am privileged to have grown up in a family where both my father and grandfather were architects. Since an early age my interests were centered around creative arts and design. In later years I met my husband-to-be at the Faculty of Architecture, and together we obtained our Master’s Degrees from the University of Pretoria. It came naturally to marry into a family of architects, and I am very blessed to have had both my father and Nico van der Meulen as my mentors. Currently I am heading the Interior Architecture Department at Nico van der Meulen Architects.
What does it mean to you that your colleagues have entrusted you with the position of Lead Designer?
I am humbled and honoured to be leading the team.
What would you like to have achieved by the end of your term?
I would like to have achieved a successful working department where my knowledge and expertise contributed to the continued growth of our company.
How would you describe your management and leadership styles?
I believe that one should lead to inspire. I greatly rely on my intuition to guide me when working with people. A team can only function optimally when people are respected, and their strengths and potentials fully utilized. I use people strategically to inspire and motivate them to excel.
What makes you tick or keeps you awake at night with respect to your position?
I love the thrill of what challenges bring. Sometimes I shoot high, without having all the knowledge; it does keep me awake, however, I know that no mountain is too big to climb. I like to solve problems, and this keeps my mind on a continual run. The bigger the challenge, the harder I work and the more determined I become.
Have you had any particular challenges as a woman professional that you think differ from your male counterparts? How have you tackled them?
All professionals face challenges, no matter the gender. Should I find myself in a position where my knowledge is questioned due to my gender, I ensure that it does not intimidate me. I always look to be inspired, and many times I find myself in a position where I can learn, rather than focus on the feeling inferior.
How do you take part in mentoring others?
I believe mentors have just as much to learn as their apprentices. I prefer to include staff in discussions on design projects and entrust them with small assignments.
If you had to relate a couple of experiences, what would be the highs and what would be the lows of your working career?
Being in a creative career, I pressurise myself to always exceed and reinvent what I have created in the past. At times this becomes physicality and mentally draining. I have come to realize that I can never do anything successfully in isolation and I need to use the team to take a project to the next level. The highs in my career was to see the built edifice of my imagination. I was honoured to see many of these published in international magazines.
What accolades have you and your organisation received recently?
Nico van der Meulen was awarded the SAPSA Lifetime Achievement Award 2017. The company’s recognition in the international field has further led to the opportunity to start preparing the opening of an international branch.
How has the firm fared in terms of achieving its business growth objectives?
The company started to involve itself in design projects in the hospitality and commercial field, which we are excited about. It has always been a goal to have a social impact on communities.
Through what means does the organisation ensure that the firm maintains high level of ethics and integrity?
Management has a close communication with staff where ethics and integrity are often discussed. We hold workshops and evaluations to assess pitfalls and achievements.
Kindly highlight some recent contributions by the firm to the community and to the relevant professions your professionals are a part of.
Our Principle Architect, Nico van der Meulen, regularly offers his time to lecture as guest speaker at the University of Johannesburg Architectural Faculty. Nico is part of a team of consultants headed by Professors who are busy compiling material for the 2020 Architectural curriculum.
Our staff plays an active role in community work whereby they look after a disadvantaged crèche and an old age home. Our current goal is to reach out and share our knowledge of sustainability by donating a sustainable vegetable garden to one of the homes.
How does the firm ensure that professionalism and good customer service are upheld?
Our regular staff meetings, under guidance of our team leaders and management, enables us to observe the quality of work. This gives us opportunities to respond to client feedback by addressing issues proactively and constructively.
When you not at work, what do you get up to, where can people follow you online?
Nature is my healer and brings balance in my life. I love time spent in the mountains with my bicycles…yes plural; or around a camp fire with my family and friends.
You can follow me on Instagram @beingphia