David Sorg, at work in the OPN Architects studios. PHOTO OPN
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By Nate Kaeding
One of the things I’ve always admired about the field of architecture is its balancing act. A great architect must meet the immediate needs of their client, while also taking into consideration the lasting impact of their design on the community and the built environment. It’s about being visionary yet pragmatic, technical yet creative – all while working with budgetary and time constraints that would make most people wilt. It’s a tough tightrope to walk, and explains why architects remain among the most respected professionals in the business world.
Dave Sorg exemplifies that ability in his work as principal of OPN Architects, the Cedar Rapids-based firm behind many well-known buildings in the Corridor. He joined the then-small firm in 1992 while still a student at Iowa State, and has helped OPN build a reputation for intelligent, thoughtful design. He now co-leads the firm’s Design Excellence program, where he works to ensure that every project offers a clean, simple and beautiful solution to clients.
Mr. Sorg sat down with me to discuss his path into the field, the skills every architect needs and the iconic buildings in our own region that speak to his personal design philosophy.
Dave, what attracted you to architecture originally? Was it more of the business side or the creative, artistic side?
More of the creative, artistic side – the idea of starting with a blank sheet of paper and listening to a client, what their goals and objectives are, and then coming up with a building that, in most cases, far exceeds their expectations.
Was architecture something you always admired as a kid growing up?
It was more in high school when I started to think about just where I was headed, and I just appreciated the creativity. I did work construction one summer, so I did like the practical side, but after the first day of work, I had to climb a 30-foot ladder and be on a roof.
No more of that.
Yeah. I think I wanted to start drawing instead of building.
So what was it about architecture that drew you in?
Architecture is an art, but it’s a very permanent art. Our buildings are around for 50 or 100 years, and to think of how important it is to take a client’s set of goals and objectives, and their vision, and turn it into reality … it’s an enormous responsibility, but it’s something I absolutely love doing.
What skillsets did you have as a kid that helped you be a great architect? I guess to flip that question around – when you guys are hiring at OPN, what’s a skillset you look for in a candidate to join your team?
That’s a great question. Most people focus on math, like, “Well, we need math.” Or “I didn’t go into architecture, because I don’t love math.” But math is not something that you need to focus on. Of course, it’s involved, but it’s really …
You’ve got Excel sheets for that, right?
You have Excel sheets for that, we have [Associate Principal] Justin Bishop for that, so it’s really about being creative. You have to be a great problem solver and you have to be a great communicator. So we tell everyone when they’re interested in architecture to get in as many speech classes as you possibly can because we have to constantly sell ourselves, sell our ideas, and you have to communicate effectively – both the design and the overall project.