Catching up with Callie, our first-ever winner

In this year of the 30th anniversary of the PG Bison 1.618 Education Initiative, we caught up with the very first winner, Callie van der Merwe, who took home the first trophy in 1992. Callie is the founder of Design Partnership Australia and credits winning this competition as the catalyst to his success.

Callie, why do you think it’s helpful for students to participate in competitions like the PG Bison 1.618 Education Initiative?

Winning this competition was an incredible tool to jumpstart my career. Even just taking part gives you exposure. In the design field, your success is determined by the number of people who know about you. You can be creative and able to do incredible work, but if no one knows about you, your chances of securing the commission will be slim.

Being the winner of the PG Bison 1.618 Education Initiative elevated my profile beyond that of designers who had been in the game for much longer and made me a better competitor, even though I was still young. Participating in the 1.618 initiative can open doors for you – especially if you’re not shy to tell people about it.

Why do you feel it’s noteworthy that PG Bison has sustained this competition for 30 years?

Even 30 years ago, the 1.618 Education Initiative was much more than a marketing exercise. PG Bison has made a point of supporting designers and the industry for years.

Subsequently to the competition, I’ve met wonderful people at PG Bison along the way, from those involved in marketing to industry leaders, and built relationships with them. I’ve also helped judge the competition.

There is a true sense of ownership and an effort to contribute positively to the marketplace. PG Bison always goes the extra mile to elevate the industry, and this initiative is just one of the ways they do so.

How do you feel South African designers and architects fare in the international marketplace?

South Africans are doing remarkable work. I recently had to look at a range of LinkedIn profiles and ask several design schools for their recommendations and noticed that young designers and architects are making strides in the industry.

The top South African designers have a can-do attitude – this sets them apart from their peers. Ability without application is nothing, and South Africans have a hunger to succeed. Their drive and failure-is-not-an-option approach are the keys to their global success.

What advice do you have for those just starting their journey into design and architecture?

Your success sits within your self-belief and your ability. We all start on an equal footing, but those who excel are those who apply themselves. Believe you can do it better than anyone else without questioning it. That is the difference between real reward and mediocrity.

At this point, your work ethic and blind faith in yourself is the only thing between you and your dream to succeed. Anyone can get onto the world stage, but you must apply yourself.

Architecture and design are the only fields in the arts where the users of the spaces do not have a say. While you can choose to read a book or see a show at the theatre, a building, and how functional or dysfunctional it is, often gets thrust upon us.

As Winston Churchill said, “We shape our buildings; thereafter, our buildings shape us.”

This art form carries tremendous weight and responsibility. Whatever you design will impact people’s lives, so if you take it in, hold it, frame it, put a bow around it and protect it, your contribution will be enormous in a way you can’t measure.

So, you must think of the people who will use the building you design, then go out there and smash it, because you can!