Architect Chad Oppenheim on Getting Back in Touch With Nature

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Cor, Miami, Florida. (Courtesy Oppenheim Architecture + Design)

Cor, Miami, Florida. (Courtesy Oppenheim Architecture + Design)

Asked about the pros and cons of practicing architecture in South Florida, Miami-based Oppenheim Architecture + Design principal and lead designer Chad Oppenheim said, “It’s always wonderful to design buildings in a beautiful environment such as Miami.”

He mentioned specifically the city’s connection to nature, and the extent to which the surrounding water, sky, and vegetation provide inspiration. “I think that people come to Miami to enhance their lives, and as a firm it’s always been our mission to design buildings and homes to help people achieve just that.”

Net Metropolis, Manila. (Courtesy Oppenheim Architecture + Design)

Net Metropolis, Manila. (Courtesy Oppenheim Architecture + Design)

But while the landscape and the spirit of the people inhabiting it act as positive stimuli, other regional characteristics are cause for concern. “Typically, I find that Miami is a place where it is expensive to build for what you get,” observed Oppenheim, who will deliver the afternoon keynote at September’s Facades+ Miami conference. “There is a quality issue that is hard to work around in Miami.”

The challenge is especially apparent when he compares his South Florida experience to his firm’s Switzerland office. “While the building and construction costs may be the same price [in Europe], the quality is a lot better. There’s a tremendous passion for craft and quality there that somehow is not necessarily a mission for people here in Miami.” At the same time, Oppenheim is heartened by the recent arrival of international design talent on the local architecture scene. “In terms of improvement, as the city becomes more sophisticated and more mature, there’s a greater desire for incredible architecture, amazing buildings, and quality projects,” he said.

As for Oppenheim Architecture + Design’s approach to facades, explained Oppenheim, “It’s not just about decoration, but how the building’s skin can accomplish a goal.” In particular, he noted the way in which an overdependence on air conditioning manifests in a one-size-fits-all relationship to the surrounding elements. “We believe that there might be a way to get more connected to the environment, and also do it in a way that’s interesting architecturally.”

Oppenheim cited his firm’s recently-completed Net Metropolis in Manila. “The facade includes a combination of sun shading and a high performance insulated glass window wall that minimizes incident solar heat gain and optimizes natural light, while giving occupants a panoramic view of the surrounding city,” he said. The green envelope cuts down on the cost and energy consumption associated with air conditioning. “It’s a way of dealing with design for the elements, doing it in a more low-tech way,” concluded Oppenheim. Connecting the Philippines example back to his home city, he said, “We see a lot of buildings in Miami from before air conditioning was so prevalent featuring screens that become part of the architecture. It’s really nice to see those kinds of things and how beautiful and appropriate they are to the climate.”

To meet Oppenheim and hear more about his take on high performance building envelopes, register for Facades+ Miami today. See a list of symposium speakers and exclusive field trip options on the conference website.

Alton Road Whole Foods, Miami Beach, Florida. (Courtesy Oppenheim Architecture + Design)

Alton Road Whole Foods, Miami Beach, Florida. (Courtesy Oppenheim Architecture + Design)

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