Designing for the future

THE creative force between Bay power couple Debbie and Bryan Wintermeyer is almost tangible. Having met both of them separately before, I was struck by the dynamic interaction and complementing ideas between these two registered architects, who both studied at the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (NMMU) and worked together at a previous practice.

The couple started The Workplace Architects seven years ago and described it as an architectural practice with a holistic offering of services from architecture, urban design, interior design, project management and heritage related services.

They also have experience in public participation processes, public art, conceptualising and installation, green building compliance and site management.

"We get involved in a wide range of work, from small alterations and additions to houses and garages, to new houses, large developments and urban designs.

"Our large projects currently under way and recently completed are the Donkin Reserve upgrade and the new NMMU business school in Second Avenue, Summerstrand," said Debbie.

Despite this and other prominent projects the Wintermeyers have been involved in, like the upgrade of the Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality Customer Care Centre and the design of the new Kareedouw Library, the couple remain humble and say that they by no means "have made it yet" since especially the profession of architecture can only be measured as "a lifetime's work" of projects and buildings by the end of one's career.

They started with just two employees but have now grown the practice to between eight and 10 employees, a number which they have maintained for the past five years, said Bryan.

"Given that we are a small business, sometimes staff is the first place people cut in tough times.

"But maintaining our team is important to us and we make sure we have enough work coming in for everyone," Bryan said. Debbie said working in an open-plan environment improved the staff's communication, production and efficiency levels and the teams were "involved with everything" by spreading the work load.

However, Bryan emphasised that there were still lines of responsibilities and team leaders to effectively balance the creativity with the bureaucracy needed to run and grow a creative business of its kind. Debbie emphasised that the practice's work is not just based on profitability but also on sustainability, to honour the brand and design integrity of the company while creating sustainable jobs.

Bryan said often the nature of their business is not just about good designs, but also about having good clients, good contractors and a good team of people to work with and collaborating with other professionals by feeding off the experience of older architects or the energy of younger colleagues.

Debbie said it was also important to challenge oneself by creating new opportunities and work harder at finding the right opportunities, by "thinking out of the box".

Bryan says this creativity can come in diverse forms – from creating public art work for the city to being creative by stretching projects' budgets.

On the question of how the couple balances their roles as a young married couple with being co-owners of this growing practice, they answer that it has its advantages and disadvantages. A big advantage for both Debbie and Bryan is that they are able to be more available to care for their young children, Leah, 5, and Caleb, 3, by working flexi hours and respecting the value of family time.

A disadvantage is that they sometimes "do not switch off" from work, and that their incomes are both linked to the success of the business, but this can also be seen as an advantage, says Debbie, because this makes them even more committed to the projects they undertake and the clients they work for. - Cindy Preller