Matthias J. Goetz wants to change our world — and will definitely succeed
“It becomes natural to fight for the things we love”, Matthias J. Goetz – sustainability-focused architect and model for our latest campaign – explains when asked about why he invests time and effort into taking care of the environment.
It was through his parents, biologist and chemical engineer, that Matt learned how the co-dependency between all living creatures on earth is key to balancing its complex ecosystem. Inspired by this, the Bavaria-native took flight out into the world: From Europe to South America, all the way to India and back. Following this journey of globetrotting, the 32-year old has since settled down in Huesca, a Spanish small town at the foot of the Pyrenees, where he practices his craft. His definition of success? “When you can focus on what you are best at while simultaneously following a holistic, sustainable approach.”
Following our shoot in Barcelona, we had a chat with Matthias and had him share the changes he wishes to see in the world, his contribution and what motivated him to get started in the first place.
How must one picture sustainability-focused architecture? How does it distinguish itself from average architecture?
Starting with the second question, I would like to challenge the term “average architecture”. When we look at the history of architecture we will find that for most of the time buildings were pretty sustainable. Back in the day for the most part local building materials were used and the main energy source for heating was wood. This was done primarily out of necessity, but it also meant that the architecture tended to be largely sustainable. In the so-called developed world this changed with the discovery of fossil fuels and the industrial revolution a little more than 200 years ago. Meaning that the history of non-sustainable buildings is very young and also has not even reached every corner of the world yet. So probably the “average architecture” for a high percentage of the world’s population is still sustainable compared to our glass palaces in the western world. Having said that, I would say that sustainability-focused architecture takes into account that some resources on planet earth are limited or even hazardous for us and future generations. Hence renewable resources and carbon neutral energy play an important role in this field.
What motivated you to go into the field you’re in?
For me working in sustainable development makes kind of intuitive sense. Why would I be interested in working in a field that is doomed to fail in the long run? Non-sustainable architecture is definitely not the future, as the word itself already implies.
Also I like to challenge the way we do things. I have never identified with people who would say, or think “We do it this way, because we have always done it this way.” This approach is way too easy and lacks any sense of innovation or imagination. Do we want to be heroes in the eyes of our children and grandchildren or do we want to be remembered as the egomaniac generations that partied on planet earth as if there was no tomorrow?
Finally, I would say that my main motivation is that I love humankind and planet earth with all of its diverse flora and fauna, as cheesy as that might sound. It would be great if our species could stay a little longer on this pale blue dot spinning through space, and preserve the things of beauty on it.
What would you say might’ve been your biggest accomplishment in this field? How have you made your mark?
That is a tough one, since I do not tend to look back a lot, in general more focusing on the marks that I want to make in the future. But on a personal level I would say that my vision helped a few business plans and initiatives in the past to kick-off and that my lack of fear to fail helped us innovate in some of our architectural projects in Germany and Chile.
On a bigger scale – in terms of impact in the field of sustainability – I’m quite proud of what we have achieved with the Elephant Podcast over the last two years, where we managed to spread climate change awareness to an international audience through interviews with leading thinkers, experts, journalists and scientists.
I also have great hope that our software project called CAALA, which brings together architectural design and parametric life-cycle analysis in at a very early stage, will change the way we will develop buildings in the future. If the software works out as we envision it, and successfully brings life-cycle considerations to the first stages of architectural design, non-sustainable architecture will only appear in history books in a few decades from now.
As can be seen on the pages of our look book you’re also a model – what change would you like to see in the fashion and beauty industry when it comes to sustainability?
There are actually a lot of similarities between the fashion and beauty industry and architecture. For instance, creating something aesthetical appealing is arguably one of the key drivers in those fields. When it comes to sustainability in fashion I often hear the myth, that you can either have great design or a sustainable product. This is simply not true and there are countless examples that prove this statement wrong. In fact, with the disposable culture, and fast fashion that dominates so much of the industry at the moment, you could even say the opposite is true, leading us to consume more and more clothes and accessories which simply do not last, and weren’t designed to last.
I would like to see people working in those industries challenge themselves more, to look at the whole life-cycle of their products and add sustainability as a basic parameter. If it is possible for this generation to accept tough challenges in physical workouts and clean eating, it should surely be possible to set the bars higher in our professional lives as well. Also it would be great if we could move back from quantity to quality. Less is more.
In many ways, neubau eyewear is about combining consciousness and style. Where would you say does this shimmer through within this campaign and the brand as a whole? So, in your opinion, where and how does neubau succeed in terms of sustainability?
I believe the best part about the consciousness campaign of neubau eyewear is that the sustainability topic is actually not obviously shimmering through when you look at the product. When I saw glasses designed by neubau eyewear for the first time, it was the style and quality that caught my attention. I was actually not aware that sustainability was a driving factor behind the product. This is the definition of success for me, when you can still focus on what you are best at – designing great glasses in this case – while following a holistic sustainable approach.
What are your favorite places in Spain — architecture-wise — and why?
That was a big coincidence during the neubau eyewear campaign shooting at the CaixaForum Barcelona. My favorite spot is right next to it, the Barcelona pavilion by Mies van der Rohe. I visit the pavilion several times a year and I always leave inspired and motivated to become a better architect.
I would also say that Barcelona in general is my favorite city in Spain, because it is such a colorful and playful place, with the spirit of Gaudi around every corner. Maybe it is because my wife is from here, but it really feels like a generally positive place to me. For architectural lovers coming to Barcelona I would also recommend to look at the works of Bofill and RCR Arquitectes, but there are many more things to discover.
Where would you like to go? What country/city/building would you like to visit/see in person?
There are too many places and buildings, which I would like to visit to name them all. Generally speaking I’m interested in places where I’m not familiar with the local culture yet. Different approaches to life often lead to different approaches in design and architecture and I find that to be quite fascinating.
I’m thinking about places like Astana (Kazakhstan), Teheran (Iran) or Detroit (USA) to just give a few examples.
According to your résumé, one might say you’re generally concerned about environmental issues — where does that stir from?
I believe that it was the influence of my parents and their passions which set me on this track of caring for our environment. My mother is a biologist and my father is a chemical engineer who actually also originally wanted to become a biologist. When I was little we would walk in nature together and they would always take the time to explain to me how the different plants and animals are dependent on each other, while also making me aware of which actions could potentially harm our ecosystems.
Nature felt like a big theme park to me and I was especially fascinated by the transformation of caterpillars into butterflies – a fascination that remains with me up to the present day. I guess it comes natural to fight for things that you love. At the same time I have to admit that I never managed to be really radical in leading a sustainable lifestyle. There are still tons of things that I could change about my own life that would benefit the environment, starting with flying less for example. I’m trying hard to lead a more sustainable life, but I do not want to sell myself as the green knight here.
Are there sustainability-engaged people or brands you look up to or feel inspired by?
In our Elephant Podcast we spoke to quite a number of people that I truly look up to, like Naomi Klein, Bill McKibben and Alan Rusbridger. It’s encouraging because in almost every field you will find an inspiring sustainability-engaged person, because it truly is a topic that knows no borders. We also spoke to Greenpeace activists and NASA astronauts and scientists that all had exciting stories to tell. I would encourage interested readers to follow our podcast as it features interviews with a whole bunch of inspiring sustainability-engaged people from a diverse range of backgrounds.
When it comes to brands the first name that comes to my mind is PATAGONIA. I was really impressed by their approach to encourage their clients to repair old gear instead of buying something new. They seem to ask themselves the right questions and their products are still great and meant to last. I’ve travelled with one of their waterproof bags for many years.
If you’re not at work or modeling, what do you like to do in your spare time?
There are so many things that it would be ridiculous to name them all, especially because every year I find something new that excites me. Last year I dedicated my weekends to a gliding club “Akaflieg Berlin”, because I always dreamed of becoming a pilot and gliding is quite a sustainable way to get up in the air. Here in Huesca my possibilities are limited compared to Berlin and I’m going back to my roots. I was just accepted by a local basketball club “Juventud Osca” and I’m working out hard to keep up with the players who are 8 – 10 years younger than me. On the weekends my wife and I are mostly going hiking in the Pyrenees. It is a small town life we are living here.
Where do you see yourself and the world 10 years from now?
I envision a scenario where in 10 years from now, the first superhuman AI will be presented to the world. One of the first advices the superhuman AI will have for us will be to not destroy our own habitat, which will come as a surprise for many. Nevertheless, humankind will follow the advice, since it is not a human being studying this field for decades telling us to take care of our planet, but something supernatural that can foresee things we could just never understand (perhaps because we are too invested in the status-quo).
As for me, it’s hard to say foresure if architects are still needed when superhuman AIs are around, but I hope that I’ll be continuing to be enjoying life, spending it with the people I love, and in my professional life doing my best in any small ways I can, to contribute positively to society, sustainable architecture, and the manner in which we live in the planet.