Our Exclusive ILMA Interview with Matthew B. Jarmel, AIA, MBA of @JarmelKizel

Mr. Jarmel is an Architect, Real Estate Developer, Renewable Energy Enthusiast, Entrepreneur and Owner of Jarmel Kizel Architects and Engineers Inc.

He received a Bachelors of Architecture from NJIT in 1990 and an MBA from Rutgers University in 1994. He can be found online at the following social media sites: LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter.

About the Firm

Since the firm’s founding in 1975, Jarmel Kizel has worked its way from the inside out; originally concentrating on the interior design of corporate offices and since has grown into a full-service Architectural, Engineering, and Interior Design firm that provides a single point of accountability for all aspects of design services. The firm’s size and abilities enable it to handle a broad spectrum of projects while allowing the principals to put their seal on every one. With in-house Civil, Structural, Mechanical, Electrical, Plumbing and Fire Protection Engineering, clients can look to Jarmel Kizel to have all aspects of their projects designed and managed by one firm.

Today the firm provides a unique service platform that provides a single point of accountability for architectural and engineering services formatted to assist clients with managing their project’s design needs from site design and land entitlements to building design through construction oversight.


When and why did you decide to become an Architect?     

I knew when I was in Junior High School that I wanted to become an architect.  I grew up in the industry in that my father is a commercial interior designer, he actually founded our firm in 1975, and I was exposed to design and construction at a very early age.  My dad totally remodeled our home and he had my brother Richard, who is a civil engineer and partner in our firm, and myself helping and working with tools. 

What were some of the challenges of achieving your dream?  

The architectural and engineering industry can be very rewarding.  There is tremendous emotional fulfillment to see your ideas first take shape on paper and then through construction.  I take great pride driving by a building our firm has designed and saying we did that.  Despite the rewards the business of architecture can be very difficult.  Our industry is first hit by a recession, hardest hit and usually the last to recover.   One of the greatest challenges of working in the profession is learning how to batten down the hatches and weather the economic storms when they come. 

Any memorable clients or project highlights?  

I have many projects I am proud of many clients that I respect and that have become good friends and even partners over the years.  Some of the more notable projects I have worked on include designing the Bear Stearns Campus in Whippany, NJ.  This project was developed over years and ultimately included approximately 700,000 sf of office and data center space in five buildings, two of which we designed and the rest we designed major renovations to.  Unfortunately Bear Stearns does not exist anymore but the campus is still there.  We also were fortunate to design the first major redevelopment project in Plainfield, NJ where we designed four buildings for the Union County Improvement Authority that included a 100,000 sf office building, two retail buildings totaling 40,000 sf and a parking structure.   This project acted as a catalyst for new development in the city.   Over the last several years the firm has been very active in NYC designing many mixed use large scale projects, we have a 17 story building under construction in Queens right now.   One of my most memorable clients is The Learning Experience.   The Learning Experience is a national and soon to be international brand of child development centers.  We designed their first center 16 years ago and have since completed over 200 projects throughout the country for them.  Because of the volume of projects we have completed for them, about 70 in NJ alone, I gained tremendous experience in land entitlements and have become an expert in land entitlement strategy.

How does your family support what you do?    

The creative process can be very time consuming, running a business and being creative magnifies the time required to be an architect.  Some days I leave the house at 7 and if I have a hearing don’t get home until midnight.   Other times I am hopping on an airplane and away overnight.   My family is supportive in that they understand the taxing requirements of the job.   With that said everything I do is for my family.  So I make sure my wife and children get the attention they need from me and we plan as much quality time as possible.

How do Architects measure success?     

Some might say you measure the success of an architect by the quality and aesthetic of the buildings he or she designs, or by how much wealth and fame they have obtained.  To me a successful architect you have to be a strong leader, a strong communicator and be able to balance the aesthetic and technical issues of a building’s design all while understanding the functional and economical goals of your client.  The architect that can achieve this can become successful.  Ultimately success is measured by obtaining the respect of your peers, clients and even contractors in the industry.  

What matters most to you in design?      

Achieving my clients goals of function and budget while creating a building that is safe and attractive.   

What do you hope to achieve over the next 2 years? 5 years?  

Our firm has developed strong skills in real estate development which include land entitlements and real estate economics.   Many times we set the strategy for how to present a project to planning and zoning boards, explain the process to our clients and even their attorneys, advise on PILOT and other incentives, building valuation and assist in making introduction to equity investors and lenders.   These skills make us stand out from our competitors but not necessarily obtain higher fees.  Our goal for the next 2 to 5 years is to expand our Real Estate Advisory services to create additional revenue as a “Fee Developer” and on our own development account.

Who is your favorite Architect? Why?     

I respect the design styles of many current and historic architects.  I am a big fan of the Chicago School and of those architects Louis Sullivan is probably my favorite.  I like this style for the buildings of the time were the first commercial buildings and first to break away from using ancient detailing by employing and emphasizing technology in design.

Do you have a coach or mentor?

I do not have a specific coach or mentor but I like to bounce ideas off of my team, clients and friends.  

What is your favorite historic and modern (contemporary) project? Why?  

My favorite historic building is the Roman Pantheon.  It was built around 113 AD and has the largest unreinforced concrete dome ever made which has a giant hole in the center that allows the sun and the moon to shine in along with the rain.  It still stands 2000 years later.  The Romans were great builders, they invented concrete, experimented with reinforcing concrete with brass chains and even developed zoning rules and regulations.   As far as contemporary buildings there are so many that I love.   I lean towards high rise sky scrapers

Where do you see the profession going over the next few decades?

Although new technologies are implemented in the profession and we go through these stages where we preach design build vs a separation between design and construction professionals the industry has not changed much in my career.  I find it interesting that Ayn Rand’s “The Fountainhead” which was written in the 40’s and takes place in the 20’s and uses the architectural industry as a back story to promoting her political views speaks to many of the same type of players and issues in the industry today.  There are developers, contractors, politicians and architects.  There are residential, public and commercial buildings and she even tackles issues such as affordable housing.  All the same issues we deal with today.   I do not see major changes in the business of the profession.  Although I do see major technical influences which will affect the way we design and build buildings.  There is a robot that lays brick now.  I think as the world gets smaller through technology building codes and licensing laws will become more standardized.

What type of technology do you see in the design and construction industries?

The use of BIM is becoming the most prevalent tool used in the design of buildings.  It allows architects and engineers to work in 3 dimensions, quickly and efficiently to improve coordination and actually see the building take shape on the screen.  Despite my comment about the brick laying robot above most construction is still done with heavy machinery and by hand.  However, technology has taken over the management of projects from creating schedules, to tracking financing and creating a database of information.  

Who / what has been your greatest influence in design?      

This answer may seem odd to most architects but my great influence in design arrives from an understanding of real estate economics tied to a building’s function and economics.   When a student at NJIT I took an elective in real estate development.  It was taught by a gentleman who ran the development arm of a now defunct savings and loan so we will allow him to remain nameless.  However, he was very influential in that he said he hated architects and found them to be a necessary evil in the process because the law forced them on him to use.  Obviously, this got most of the students in the class upset but I wanted to know why he felt that way.  He thought that architects only cared about what the building looked like and had no understanding or really care for what it might cost to build, what’s its function was to be or how it generated revenue for its owners.  He introduced me to the business side of why clients build in the first place.  This motivated me to go on and obtain an MBA with a concentration in real estate development and urban land use after architectural school.  I feel that the business education in conjunction with my architectural education make me a stronger architect and have been the most influential on my design.

Which building or project type would you like to work on that you haven’t been part of yet?     

I have been fortunate to work on almost any type of commercial project.  I would like to be exposed to more hospitality projects.

How do you hope to inspire / mentor the next generation of Architects?   

I hope to mentor the next generation of architects in a way that they can understand the business goals of the client and why they are building so that they can better respond to the client’s needs I also want to mentor them to be strong leaders and great communicators.

What advice would you give aspiring architects (K-12)? College students? Graduates?

I would advise them to not only pursue their dream of designing buildings but to learn about the profession as a whole, to learn about the process of becoming an architect and career choices in the industry.  When I was in school no one told me how to become a licensed architect I had to figure it out on my own.

What does Architecture mean to you?     

It is my profession, it is my life!

What is your design process?     

First understand the client’s program goals and budget, then study the site and zoning constraints, roll up my sleeves and dive in.

If you could not be an Architect, what would you be?     

A civil engineer and or real estate developer.

What is your dream project?     

A really tall building in a major city that becomes a landmark for years to come.  If I can be a partner in its ownership even better.

What advice do you have for a future Executive leader?     

Respect and care about the people you are leading, be kind but stern.

What are three key challenges you face as a leader in business today and one trend you see in your industry?     

All challenges revolve around people.  First finding qualified people, there is a tremendous shortage of qualified architects and engineers, second finding people that can see the big picture first before the crawl into the details and finally finding people that can communicate effectively.   As far as trends see my answer to where I see the industry going above

What one thing must an executive leader be able to do to be successful in the next 3 years?      

I am optimistic that we are at the beginning of a sustainable economic growth period.  This will provide many of us with significant projects to choose from and an even more challenging labor shortage.  An executive leader will need to be able to recruit talent and keep them motivated to stay.

What are some executive insights you have gained since you have been sitting in the executive leadership seat – or what is one surprise you have encountered as the world of business continues to morph as we speak?     

I do not know if I am any smarter today at 50 then I was when I got out of school in my early 20’s what I have gained is life experience.  The most important lesson is that people will surprise you. Some will impress you, some will disappoint you, some will be loyal and others not.  I have seen some crazy things happen some good and some bad.   Just when I think I have seen everything someone surprises me. 

Final Thoughts on How to Be Successful?      

Learn your trade, be good at and then learn to be a good communication and leader and business person.

For more exclusive ILMA interviews click here.

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