Leaders We Admire: Matt O’Malia
Founder, OPAL, GO Logic, GO Lab, Belfast Maine
Award-winning architect Matthew O’Malia has spent his career rethinking every detail of building construction, with an eye toward high performance, quality, and sustainability. The designer of Alnoba, the Lewis Family Foundation leadership center in Kensington, New Hampshire, he offers his thoughts on the future of architecture.
Foundation: You are co-founder of three organizations! What are they, and how are they connected?
O’Malia: GO Logic was founded ten years ago with my business partner Alan Gibson. We really drove the concept of the passive house into the North American market and were key in helping establish passive housing at the beginning of its growth trajectory.
We focused on residential initially because of the scale of the cost and the risk, but we became interested in taking high-performance knowledge and understanding and implementing that on bigger buildings. Recently, recognizing the difference between the construction and architecture divisions, we realized it was the right time to separate the two. So now GO Logic is the construction company, and the new entity, as of April 1, is OPAL, which is the architecture division.
There is one more company, of which I am also founder and partner, which is GO Lab. What we’re going to be doing at GO Lab is manufacturing a new type of insulation, which is renewable, non-toxic, recyclable, and made of wood fiber. We’re going to be building the first domestic manufacturing plant. We’ll be starting production at the end of 2020.
Foundation: What is a passive house?
O’Malia: The passive house concept proposes that buildings use 90% less energy than traditional buildings for space heating. Especially in a cold climate like Maine, we’re talking about a massive increase in the improvement of the performance of the building. It all comes down to insulating well, air sealing well, and having ventilation with energy recovery. That should all be in the architect’s hands.
There’s an amazing secondary benefit to passive housing, and that has to do with human comfort, health, and well-being. You don’t have loud furnaces and pockets of heat and cold, and you don’t have any drafts. Plus, there’s a constant refreshing of the air, which improves the quality and feel of the building. It’s a very, very different health and well-being proposition.
Foundation: What’s your background?
O’Malia: I’m an architect by training. I got my secondary degree from a German university, which opened my eyes to a completely different level of construction. They have a consideration of buildings as being long-lived, well-built, quality items, rather than quick and fast. That has informed a lot of my role as to how I see myself as an architect.
Foundation: What is your affiliation with the Lewis Family Foundation?
O’Malia: The Lewis family chose us to be the architects for Alnoba, a passive-house building that is a great example of a larger-scale, high-performance building. It was a wonderful working relationship, and since then I’ve consulted on a number of different projects with them. For us, finding partners and allies who share the vision of positive change is imperative, and the Lewis Family Foundation is definitely one of those partners. We are extremely thankful that we had the opportunity to work with them, because it allows us to do the work we think is so important. They’ve played a huge role in the success that we’ve had.
Foundation: What are your plans for the future of your three companies?
O’Malia: Alnoba’s a building that I think is quite timeless and beautiful in its connection to nature and culture, but also on the cutting edge of performance and sustainability. I think that building should be every building, going forward. We need to keep conceiving buildings in different ways and ensuring that performance is appropriate for the lifespan these buildings will have. My goal in creating OPAL is to create an architecture company that will help be the change and demonstrate that change.
Foundation: What would people be surprised to learn about you?
O’Malia: I like to run 50-mile races in the woods—ultramarathons. It’s a kind of meditation … and a little painful.
Tell us a little about yourself. Which do you prefer?
Chocolate or vanilla?
I like light chocolate, so my wife would probably say it’s basically vanilla!
Reading a book or seeing a movie?
Going for a hike or sitting by a fire?
Going for a hike
Talking or listening?
Dogs or cats?
Being interviewed or having a tooth pulled?
I enjoy interviews. I don’t like having teeth pulled!