Technogym
Technogym
Technogym

Interview:Chad Oppenheim

Balancing act

Whether he’s designing a resort for Six Senses or a youth centre for Pharrell Williams, Miami architect Chad Oppenheim’s aim is to leave the client speechless. He tells Alice Davis how he does it


I think we have a unique ability to balance the poetry and the proficiency of buildings, the fantasy as well as the functionality,” says Chad Oppenheim, of Miami-based Oppenheim Architecture + Design.

Oppenheim Architecture was founded in 1999, and in that time the firm has won more than 30 AIA Awards.

Specialising in hotels and resorts, retail, commercial and residential projects at the high end of the global market, the firm is recognised for its environmental approach and respect for the relationship between man and nature.

As the practice has grown and opened offices in both Basel and New York, it has attracted a variety of big-hitting clients, including the Walt Disney Company, Starwood, Morgans Hotel Group and Mandarin Oriental. A-list stars are also on Oppenheim’s books, including singer/songwriter Pharrell Williams and filmmaker Michael Bay.

Oppenheim’s concepts can be understated and sensational at the same time. One recent project, which he says was a defining point in his career, is Bay’s Los Angeles home. From one angle, a minimalistic glass box perched atop a hill, framing the view like a cinema screen. From another, a Jenga game of complex volumes hovering next to the cliff’s edge, conveying all the drama you’d expect from a US$5bn-grossing movie director. 

For Bay, it was a dream home – and for Oppenheim Architecture, a dream client – one who wanted something spectacular and had the budget to make it happen. Oppenheim recalls that at Bay’s celebrity-filled housewarming party, he gave one of the guests – director Stephen Spielberg – a tour. “His jaw just dropped,” Oppenheim says. “He said he’d never seen anything like it in his life.”

Oppenheim gets a kick out of creating this wow factor, the jaw-dropping moment that leaves people first speechless, then reaching for the superlatives. Whether designing a residential project – like Bay’s villa or Miami’s Ten Museum Park high-rise – or a hospitality or leisure project, Oppenheim says the aim is the same: get both form and function right because it has to feel as good as it looks.

PERFORMANCE / POETRY
“You have to match the level of amazement, power and drama with the same level of comfort,” he says. “In a hotel, the brief is not just to create something interesting, beautiful and dynamic architecturally, it’s also to create something wonderful experientially and operationally.”

It’s easy to see how Oppenheim secures contracts with some of the biggest names in luxury hospitality, such as Delano, Six Senses and Starwood. His aesthetic suits them down to the ground, and when he works on a hotel or resort, the experience and “tremendous comfort” of the guest is central. This can only be achieved when the resort functions flawlessly at every level.

“You can’t insert the operational aspects as an afterthought,” he says. “The whole project is a balance of performance and poetry.”

One of the newest developments on his books is a Six Senses resort with private residences which will be located on the top of Powder Mountain in Utah. Oppenheim is in the preliminary design phase. The mountaintop site was acquired in 2013 by the Summit Group, four radical young entrepreneurs – Elliott Bisnow, Brett Leve, Jeff Rosenthal and Jeremy Schwartz – who are planning to make Powder Mountain a modern-day ski village with eco-hotels and organic restaurants (see feature on p50 for more details).

One reason Oppenheim’s practice is sought for jobs like this is its respect for the landscape and ability to create resorts that build on that connection between structure and surrounds.

Part of the firm’s philosophy is to hide structures in the landscape or integrate them with the land, using traditional techniques and local materials. 

One proposal for a resort and spa for a royal family in the Middle East is dug into the ground, becoming almost invisible. The aerial view, however, reveals the land is covered in a smattering of what look like space-age crop circles. The project marries cutting-edge construction techniques with ancient ones to create a destination that seems like a mirage. A “vibrant dialogue between built form and landscape inspired by and in awe of the power of the desert,” the project description says.

DISCONNECT / CONNECT
Another example is an Oppenheim eco-destination in Jordan, the Wadi Rum Desert Resort, where lodge-like accommodations are carved out of the natural stone landscape.

Although the resort will have the usual five-star facilities, including restaurants and a spa, there will be no heating or electrical fittings. Water will be solar-heated and after dark, guests will have to rely on candlelight. Rooms will be sparsely furnished and inspired by the tribal way of life.

“We’re creating inhabitable land-art installations that rip you from your normal world and bring you to this place. It’s about disconnecting and connecting,” says Oppenheim. “It’s very much tied in with nature: the sunrises, the sunsets, the moon, the breezes. I’ve always tried to express this purity of design to create a powerful sense of connecting with the earth and the world around you.”

However, the project has only been moving forward at a snail’s pace since 2011, partly due to tensions around the land ownership following the Arab uprisings that year. 

When Oppenheim designs a project, he aims to create spaces where experiences can happen, to set up the moments that will become memories for the guest. These experiences are driven by nature and Oppenheim will make sure he constructs the right place to watch the sunrise or appreciate the view, without the architecture interfering.

“We’ve done our job right when the architecture disappears and is submissive in relation to the beauty of the place,” he says. “That’s something we really strive for. It’s not an elevated thought or an ethereal concept that these buildings tap into – it’s something that you feel in your heart. You feel it and you sense it and it blows your mind.”

If it sounds instinctive, perhaps that’s because architecture has always been Oppenheim’s raison d’etre. He decided to become an architect at the age of seven, when his parents were building a custom home and he was allowed to join in the design process with them and the architect.

“I loved this idea of taking your dreams and translating them into a built reality,” he says. “From that moment, creating buildings became an incredible passion. I’ve never really stopped.”

Gallery
Click on an image to open the image gallery
company profile
Company profile: Gharieni Group
The Gharieni Group, based in Germany, is a leading European manufacturer of high-end spa and medical equipment with almost 30 years of experience.
Try cladmag for free!
Sign up with CLAD to receive our regular ezine, instant news alerts, free digital subscriptions to CLADweek, CLADmag and CLADbook and to request a free sample of the next issue of CLADmag.
sign up
features
The new 10,000 stadium will replace the existing 7,500 seat Palau Blaugrana
"Whatever your allegiances, you have to admit that no football club has a brand quite like FC Barcelona. "

FC Barcelona is taking on its rivals with its ambitious €600m expansion project Kim Megson speaks to the architects involved

The family spend time together at the Swartberg House in South Africa, resting and recharging from their hectic life in London
"It’s important for people to be rooted in place. This is a very special house, with powerful connections to nature"

Jennifier Beningfield has built her dream home in South Africa, using ancient building methods

An infinity pool looks out across the lake, Italian Alps and small towns and the hotel also has a private beach.
Patricia Urquiola
"Il Sereno has obtained Climate House Certification, thanks to the materials and lighting"

Spanish architect Patricia Urquiola on why creating the first new hotel on Lake Como for years was a true labour of love 

Catalogue Gallery
Click on a catalogue to view it online
To advertise in our catalogue gallery: call +44(0)1462 431385
Mia Kyricos is senior vice president and global head of wellbeing for Hyatt Hotels Corporation
"We’re now smart enough to know that it’s the environments we choose to surround ourselves with that impact our health and wellness"

Home wellness is the future, says Hyatt’s global head of wellbeing

features
Beat Schenk
"Bjarke was this young kid, quite brash and totally insane, but with really good energy, directing the team about what to do next."

On meeting Bjarke Ingels at OMA and VIA 57 West

The cube-shaped Perelman Performing Arts Center will allow daylight in during the day and will glow at night
Prince-Ramus was the founding partner of OMA New York, before rebranding the firm as REX in 2006
"If there are many possible solutions, we choose the one that is most beautiful"

Rem Koolhaas’ protege on the challenges of designing a truly flexible arts centre for Ground Zero

The pool contains natural thermal water
Architect, resort owner and pool designer Emanuele Boaretto
"We’re now consulting all over the world with architects and developers on other dive pool projects "

Kath Hudson talks to Italian architect Emanuele Boaretto about building the world’s deepest diving pool to regenerate both his own spa resort and the region

cladkit product news
Eco Resort Network conference to convene in Mauritius this May
The event will be hosted in the Mauritius in 2024
Megan Whitby
Hospitality industry event Eco Resort Network is set to take place at the Ravenala Attitude Hotel, Turtle Bay, Mauritius, from ...
Mather & Co and ITV unite to create Coronation Street Experience
Mather & Co has transformed the visitor centre into the ultimate haven for ardent Coronation Street viewers
Magali Robathan
Experience designers, Mather & Co, have orchestrated a remarkable collaboration with ITV to unveil the new Coronation Street Experience, a ...
Alberto Apostoli and Newform collaborate to launch the A.Zeta showerhead
The showerhead offers two modes; rainfall or waterfall
Megan Whitby
Italian architect Alberto Apostoli has renewed his partnership with Newform – an Italian wellness company – and designed A.Zeta. A.Zeta ...
cladkit product news
Koto Design introduces wood-fired hot tub
Koto is known for crafting modular, energy-neutral cabins and homes
Katie Barnes
A striking wood-fired hot tub has been unveiled by Koto, an architecture and design studio which has a passion for ...
Eden project uses drones to spell out climate change warning
Magali Robathan
Almost 300 drones were used to signal an environmental message above the Eden Project’s biomes, during the UN Climate Change ...
Alberto Apostoli designs tech-forward Wellness Therapy furniture collection for Varaschin
The furniture collection draws on absolute geometries, pure lines, neutral colours and strong references to nature
Megan Whitby
Furniture manufacturer Varaschin has unveiled the new Wellness Therapy range, designed by Italian spa and wellness architect and designer Alberto ...
cladkit product news
Codelocks develops new glass door smart lock
The new lock model allows facilities and building managers to create and manage access via an app or online portal
Megan Whitby
Codelocks has launched its first glass door smart lock to bring intelligent access control to modern spa, leisure, fitness and ...
Jaffe Holden helps bring Academy Museum of Motion Pictures alive
Jaffe Holden provided architectural acoustics for the Academy Museum
Magali Robathan
Acoustical consulting firm Jaffe Holden provided architectural acoustics and audio/video design services for the recently opened Academy Museum of Motion ...
Siminetti unveils iridescent decorative panelling range inspired by plants
The Clematis design
Megan Whitby
The Botanicals is Siminetti’s newest Mother of Pearl decorative panelling collection, inspired by the distinctive patterns found in botany and ...
Technogym
Technogym