A Conversation With Matt Ostanik

Architects: Creating greater awareness of their invaluable expertise.

Matt Ostanik always wanted to be an architect. “I remember I loved to draw as a kid, and I loved playing with Legos, of course, building things in the sandbox—all those early warning signs that you may have a future in architecture or something related to that,” Ostanik says.

Ostanik left his native Illinois, lured by the architecture program at Iowa State University. He graduated in 2001 and decided to stay in Iowa, and has since launched several businesses. He is also the 2017 president of the American Institute of Architects, Iowa Chapter (AIA Iowa).

What’s your professional experience?

After college, I worked at an architecture firm in West Des Moines. I got my license as an architect, and had a great learning experience at that firm. About five years after school, I left the firm to focus on a software company that I had started named Submittal Exchange.

It was a software product that architects, contractors, and facility owners used to manage submittals and other documents during the construction process on projects. I went from being an architect to focusing on growing a software business for architects and contractors, and I spent the next seven years growing it.

By 2014, Submittal Exchange had been acquired and I to moved on to start a couple of other new businesses. Today, I have a software company for marketing and sales software called FunnelWise. I also own a firm called Charrette Venture Group that invests in and provides business and strategic services to small and growing architecture firms across the country.

What goals do you want to accomplish as AIA Iowa president?

Part of our continuous goal with AIA Iowa is to better communicate the value of architecture and our members, and the advantages we bring to our clients. We want others to understand the impact of good design and sustainable practices, developing livable communities, and how all those things benefit the public good.

We’re doing a number of things to accomplish that. We have an annual fall convention that continues to grow and attract a lot of participation from architects, as well as other affiliated groups. We wrapped up Architecture Month in April, holding communication activities statewide. Something we launched last year that has been very popular is a People’s Choice Award, with people across the state voting for winners of architectural awards.

We are also focusing on our advocacy efforts at the state level. Something we were intent on addressing this year was the statute of repose, which is a period of time for which architects and contractors are liable for issues that occur in projects they build. Prior to this year, Iowa had the longest statute of repose in the country—15 years for commercial construction.

We were fortunate to work with Master Builders of Iowa and other groups to get legislation passed this year that now puts Iowa more in the middle of the pack for how they manage those liabilities. Now, the statute of repose for commercial construction is eight years. This makes Iowa a much more reasonable state for builders and designers of any kind to practice.

What are some of the most pressing challenges facing architects today?

I think architects need to do more to assert our own relevance and establish our place in the process. I think it’s very important for us as an organization to talk about that more. Architects aren’t always the best about talking about themselves sometimes. We can certainly do better about talking about our piece of the puzzle and how we contribute.

One example is in regard to design build. While it can be a good type of project delivery when done properly, some variations remove the architect’s role as a direct advocate for the building owner.

Our job is to look out for the best interest of our clients, particularly when they’re public clients, to make sure the public is getting the best value for their money and the best high-quality, long-term design for buildings that may be around for hundreds of years. For this reason and others, delivery methods like Construction Manager At Risk are a better fit because they provide collaboration like design-build but keep the architect as an advocate for the owner.

Also, architecture is a very entrepreneurial profession. But internally, we do not talk enough about that. That’s a personal interest of mine—helping architects become better entrepreneurs and more successful at growing their businesses.

How can these be addressed?

It goes back to working with our members to better communicate with people outside the profession about what we do and why these issues are important.

AIA Iowa has an initiative called the Citizen Architect Program. We get members to engage in their local communities, having them serve on city councils, sitting on planning and zoning boards, and participating in other governmental efforts. Many of our members are already doing this, but we’re looking for more to do so.

It’s about having architects bring their expertise to the table to help non-architects benefit from our skill set as well. That’s something very important that we’re looking at continuing to grow. I myself serve on my local planning and zoning committee, and previously sat on the board of adjustment.

Tell us about your personal life.

I’m married, have a daughter, and we live in Dallas Center. My wife and I met at Iowa State, and are big fans and good supporters of Iowa State athletics.