Jonathan Opitz became president of AMR Architects in 2017. His practice focuses on project development and design with an emphasis on sustainable and regionally sensitive projects. Opitz, a LEED-accredited professional who has worked on multiple LEED-certified projects, received the AIA National Young Architect Award in 2017, was a member of the Arkansas Business 40 Under 40 class in 2017 and received the AIA Arkansas Emerging Professional Award in 2014.
Opitz received his architecture degree from the Fay Jones School of Architecture & Design at the University of Arkansas in 2002. He is the current chapter president of AIA Arkansas.
What are the political and social pressures on design as the world faces climate change?
The design and construction industry understands that the built environment is the largest contributor to greenhouse gases. We understand that we have to push for carbon-neutral buildings. As advisers to our clients, we do our very best to educate them about the environmental impacts of product choices, life-cycle cost and renewable energy payback periods.
To have the real change we need, it will have to be a financial decision for owners, not an emotional one. Once carbon-neutral buildings are the most profitable for owners to build, that will be the moment I think we’ll see a paradigm shift in the construction industry and climate change.
What long-term changes in building design, commercial and residential, will flow from the coronavirus pandemic?
We have already witnessed a seismic shift in how owners think about their buildings. Now, how a building is cleaned and maintained is an early conversation we have with our clients. The design and construction industry was already headed in the direction of touchless devices and antimicrobial surfaces, but the pandemic has made building owners much savvier when it comes to the costs associated with cleaning and disinfecting their spaces.
We’ve also witnessed a shift from outdoor space being a nice amenity to being a necessity for a lot of businesses, and we are hopeful this will lead to more dynamic outdoor spaces that are truly usable for work.
What industries are seeking the most architectural work in 2021?
Of course, industrial and medical have really seen their needs grow during the past year. We’ve also seen multifamily and single-family residential grow. In years past, people wanted more space; now after spending more time at home, people are realizing they want space that they can subdivide and that has flexibility. Zoom calls will continue, but we have all realized the importance of physical connections to our mental health. These connections are going to be paramount when the pandemic is behind us. We have several clients in the hospitality industry, as tough as the year has been, who are poised to begin work on vibrant spaces that will help people connect again.
What is something you learned during your first year on the job that you wished you had learned in school?
I learned the significance of personal connections and interactions to creating a successful project. In school you can be a little isolated designing by yourself. The first year in the office I realized the importance of communication. This past year has solidified my appreciation for face-to-face conversations with clients and employees where I can read their facial expressions and collaborate more effectively. Don’t get me wrong — we’re very lucky to have so many virtual platforms to stay connected. The pandemic would have been much harder on society 20 years ago without the technological conveniences, but there is a much deeper level of connection when meeting in person.