Story at a glance:

  • The Chicago Athenaeum’s 2023 Laureate of The American Prize for Architecture Awards took place on Dec. 13, 2023.
  • Chad Oppenheim founded Oppenheim Architecture in 1999 to design a new kind of sensory, site-specific architecture.

In December 2023 in the The Arts Club of Chicago’s chilly, artwork-filled event space, Miami-based architect and urban planner Chad Oppenheim received the Chicago Athenaeum’s 2023 Laureate of The American Prize for Architecture. Wearing a laurel crown, he thanked his team, clients, and collaborators—particularly Beat Huesler, who leads the international branch of Oppenheim Architecture based in Basel, Switzerland—for bringing to life incredible work around the world.

All of Oppenheim’s structures include green roofs, providing thermal insulation, rainwater retention, and habitats for flora, fauna, and humans.

“Subtle, powerful, elegant, and deeply romantic, he is a prolific American architect who is radical in his restraint, demonstrating his reverence for history and culture as well as time and space while honoring the preexisting built and natural environment, as he reimagines a more beautiful and poetic world with modern, meaningful buildings that relate to their context and reinvigorates the landscape and places in which his designs exist,” Christian Narkiewicz-Laine, architecture critic and museum president and CEO of The Chicago Athenaeum, told the crowd.

oppenheim Ayla Golf Clubhouse

The Ayla Golf Clubhouse in Jordan was designed by Oppenheim Architecture using shotcrete and soil from the site. Openings are sized to capture coastal breezes, and sunlight is filtered through perforated corten steel screens. Photo courtesy of Oppenheim Architecture

The Chicago Athenaeum: Museum of Architecture and Design and The European Centre for Architecture Art Design and Urban Studies grant the annual award to architects whose body of work pushes the typologies and expectations for architecture to new heights with consistent vision and humanist ideals.

The prize is widely regarded as the highest honor for architecture in the US, and Christian emphasized it is also the only public award in the nation, as he placed a literal crown of laurels upon Oppenheim’s head.


Chad Oppenheim was awarded the prestigious Chicago Athenaeum 2023 Laureate of The American Prize for Architecture.

Accepting the award, the architect also expressed gratitude for science fiction films like Star Wars, Blade Runner, and James Bond that he said pushed his understanding of what architecture can be. His work over the last two decades includes cultural and hospitality buildings, residences, and urban master planning across continents. Many bear resemblance to the films that inspire him, while all offer sensory architectural experiences that respond to their context, guided by the philosophy that design follows life and form follows feeling.

Previous Laureates include Sir Norman Foster, Michael Graves, and last year, SHoP Architects.


The Muttenz Water Purification Plant was designed by Oppenheim Architecture. Photo by Börje Müller


The design of the Muttenz Water Purification Plant takes an industrial building and makes it a beautiful site in a protected ecosystem. The shotcrete rock face is colored with local minerals and this porous geological surface welcomes moss and elemental markings over time, with no required maintenance. Photo by Aaron Kohler