Chad Oppenheim on Truth, Euphoria, and the Journey

Saxon Henry Saxon Henry

Architizer continues to explore how architects experience the emotional realm during the process of creation, presenting the points of view of some of the profession’s most actualized practitioners. Today, Saxon Henry, author of Four Florida Moderns, interviews Chad Oppenheim, FAIA, the Founder, Principal, and Lead Designer of Oppenheim Architecture + Design LLP, with Offices in Miami and Basel, Switzerland. Chad was inducted into the AIA’s prestigious College of Fellows during the Investiture Ceremony at the 2015 AIA Convention in Atlanta last month.

Do you have a normal emotional starting point once you know you are going to take on a project?

It is always super exciting to get a new project, and we treat it like a miracle! Out of all the great architects in the world, the client has selected us to make their dreams come true, whether for business or personal pleasure. We take this responsibility seriously, and we want to create something special for them. The excitement leads to curiosity and relentlessness as we undergo a process where we attempt to uncover the “truth” of a project relevant to its context. It is a bit like archaeology as we use the clues the place has given us to find a solution that is defensible from all aspects.

House on a Dune, The Bahamas

Do you know when you’ve “got it,” meaning you know emotionally when you have the best design for a building you can possibly create at any given time?

Yes, and it is the greatest feeling ever — pure euphoria, the highest state of enlightenment. For us, we know when we have reached this point because it’s the moment when the design is defensible from all vantage points. The joy of achieving this state is worth the madness of the discovery process.

Do you feel that, as an architect matures, different emotions come into play or do you feel temperament is a set piece of the personality?

I am not sure if different emotions come into play, but different experiences provide different perspectives that can enhance the journey toward an architectural solution. That is what makes what we do so exciting. Influence can come from anywhere. At the moment, I am fascinated by cenotes, which are water-filled limestone caves in the Yucatan Peninsula that have partially collapsed to form the most stunning light and water experience I have ever had. This will definitely find its way into our work. Curiously, there are projects we did years ago that are very much in line with the drama of cenotes. Perhaps it was some sort of premonition?

Enea Headquarters, Jona, Switzerland

Do you do active charrettes in your studios with your teams and, if so, how does emotionality come into play during that process?

We usually have multiple teams, each exploring multiple directions so we have many options to review. Sometimes the first idea comes back to be the best, even after we have spent a great amount of effort on the journey. By that point, we are confident it is the right one.

Do you experience different emotions when you are walking through your built projects that surprise you in any way, and can you give me an example?

The last project I finished was a house for the director Michael Bay in Los Angeles. He had a birthday/housewarming party when the home was finally completed, and it was so amazing and overwhelmingly beautiful to experience what we had created that it nearly brought me to tears of joy. It was a tremendous moment.

La Muna, Aspen, Colo.

Do you remember from architecture school if the emotionality of what you were reading and/or studying took you to a new plane of thinking or feeling in any way?

It was more the professors and teaching assistants that inspired me with exposure to new architects, artists, and ideas.

Do you find any one type of project more emotionally challenging than any other?

Probably working on a private home is the most emotionally challenging as the clients are building something very personal and they have entrusted you with helping them construct their dreams.

Kirchplatz Residence, Basel, Switzerland

See more work from Oppenheim Architecture + Design on Architizer.