A Q&A With Coverings’ Keynote: Chad Oppenheim


In anticipation of Chad Oppenheim’s forthcoming keynote at Coverings, we delve into his architectural philosophy that seamlessly merges modernity with the cultural essence of a place. Oppenheim, a Miami-based architect celebrated for his transformative designs, shares insights on how his projects evoke harmony with nature while preserving the spirit of their locales. From utilizing local materials to embracing sustainable practices, Oppenheim’s approach reflects a deep respect for both the environment and the cultural heritage of each site. Join us as we explore his innovative perspective on architecture as a relationship between man, nature, and the built environment.


Coverings: Can you tell us about your approach to incorporating regional context into your architectural designs, and how you ensure that modernity doesn’t overshadow the cultural essence of a place?

Chad: When we design our projects we work to evoke a feeling of harmony with nature.  We believe that buildings and environments should be symbiotic in order to create a feeling of belonging that blends our projects into their surroundings. This offers an understanding that we as humans do not just inhabit the earth to live on, but to preserve the earth as best as we can by enhancing and celebrating the spaces they are in.

To ensure that modernity doesn’t overshadow the spirit of place, we always work to approach our designs as archeologists would. We approach our vision the same way and in order to craft our designs for certain projects, there first needs to be an understanding and study of the location, environment and terrain. We have worked on a variety of projects all around the world, each with its own unique locations, environments, and landscape and to execute our philosophy of designing with the land there needs to be an examination of what we are working with and the goal we want to achieve.

Coverings: Could you share your select materials for your projects and how they contribute to the overall narrative of the building?

Chad: Whenever the opportunity arises, we utilize local materials and implement that into our palette. Frank Lloyd Wright always spoke about organic architecture, and it took me years to finally understand what that meant. This idea of how the building and the land can become one is very important, and they are two parts of a whole. We always aim to utilize local materials whenever possible. Our desert projects like Ayla Golf Clubhouse and Desert Rock are perfect examples of weaving local materials and techniques into our designs.

For our Ayla Golf Clubhouse project in Aqaba, Jordan, the base of the design used curved steel to recreate the arches from the surrounding sand dunes, and we worked with local artisans to emulate them further with shotcrete as the sole material.

For Desert Rock, not only did we want to preserve the natural landscape, but we also took the landscape into consideration when selecting materials. Stone is used for interior and exterior walls and floors, while ground stone and existing sand are used for concrete aggregate, the main building material for the entire structure.

Coverings: Could you share a specific project where the choice of materials played a crucial role in conveying the project’s “spirit of place”?

Chad: The project that is the most enchanting and reflects the principle of the “spirit of place” is Desert Rock. This is a dream that is currently under construction right now in Saudi Arabia, and it’s going to be a mind-bending experience that really demonstrates the relationship between nature and the built environment. This project is something that is being built upon 2300 years of history with the Nabataean people and taking inspiration from how they would build within the rocks of this region. We’re taking this ideology and taking it one step further with this idea of a “future primitive” architecture that is timeless and at the same time eternal, truthful, and really one with its site.

Coverings: How do you approach sustainability in your designs?

Chad: Sustainability and preservation have been at the forefront of our philosophy since the conception of our firm. Our goal is always to design with the land not just on it and to be able to maintain the “spirit of place.” Sustainability has become one of the most important factors in everyday life and this next evolution in design and architecture now includes and considers consumers’ values.

A great example of this approach can be seen in our Desert Rock project, as part of the Red Sea Development and Oppenheim Architecture’s commitment to regenerative tourism, Desert Rock is designed to achieve the highest Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification level. With the site’s natural beauty as a guidepost, we endeavored to be mindful of the elements already existing on the site and use them to enhance the environment’s authentic look and feel. We wove this ideology throughout the project and incorporated regenerative ideas into the elements that power the resort. For example, we sought to reduce the property’s energy consumption. The water retention and distribution system, use of local stone, and reuse of excavated materials make immense efforts beyond sustaining the environment, but to reusing and regenerating it.

As architects, we are also aware of how project construction contributes to CO2 emissions, and it’s our responsibility to implement and honor sustainable practices. It’s also imperative that architects understand the importance of preserving the local environment as much as possible as stewards of the land on which they are building. With Desert Rock, our goal is to protect, preserve, and enhance the environment, while also reducing energy consumption, supercharging the ecosystem, and allowing guests to connect with nature and the local culture of the region— all while using sustainable practices.


Join Chad Oppenheim in this Breakfast Keynote:

Building Globally, Designing Locally – How Materiality Empowers Spirit of Place

Monday, April 22 | 8:00 – 9:00 AM | GWCC, Room B312

Projects by Chad Oppenheim

Ayla Golf Academy & Club House

Ayla Golf Academy and Club House is based in Aqaba, Jordan, and takes inspiration from the stunning mountain landscape that surrounds the 18-hole championship golf course. The goal of the design was to capture the elemental beauty of the rolling desert landscape and apply it to the architecture to evoke a spirit of place.


Escondido is a renovated project in Malibu, California designed to transform the dated structure into a timeless coastal home. The design goal of the project was to connect the interior with the colors, textures, and feeling of the natural environment and create a seamless flow of the indoor and outdoor living spaces.

House in a Jungle

House in a Jungle is a family home based in the wildness of Caracas, Venezuela. The home is imagined as an ancient stone ruin engulfed by the jungle and is designed to bring the outdoors in.


More About Chad Oppenheim

Chad Oppenheim is a Miami-based architect whose work has been praised for its ability to transform the prosaic into the poetic. Through passion and sensitivity towards man and nature, Oppenheim creates monumental yet silent architecture that elicits a site’s inherent power.

A graduate of Cornell University and Fellow of the AIA, Oppenheim has lectured widely and has taught at various architecture schools, including Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design and, most recently, Cornell University’s College of Architecture, Art, and Planning. In 1999, he founded Oppenheim Architecture (Miami, Basel, New York), which has garnered global recognition at many scales; from large-scale urban architecture, hotels and resorts, to private residences, interiors and furnishings. The international practice has received over 80 industry awards, with more than 50 from the AIA, including the AIA’s highest distinction, the Silver Medal, as well as a 2018 National Design Award from Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum. The award-winning firm’s work has been featured in over 1,000 publications around the world, including multiple appearances in The New York Times and Architectural Record.

Most recently, Oppenheim was named the 2023 laureate of The American Prize for Architecture, the highest honor for architecture in the United States.

Oppenheim currently resides in Miami Beach with his wife and muse, Ilona, their son Hendrix, and their daughter Liloo.