As founding partner of Olson Kundig Architects, Jim Olson has built a practice guided by the belief that inspiring surroundings have a positive effect on people’s lives, and that architecture can connect us with the miracle of nature and the magic of art. He is inspired by this relationship between architecture, art and nature—in residential projects across the country, often for art collectors, Olson has profoundly explored the aesthetic interplay of art and architecture, and the relationship between the inside and outside. He creates homes that offer an appropriate environment for living with art and nature, such as An American Place, House of Light and Hong Kong Villa. His projects are sensitive to the varying space and light requirements of differing art genres and to the site’s natural attributes.
Olson is also concerned with making architecture that creates and enhances community in the urban context. Olson’s commitment to community is exemplified in his buildings in Seattle, where his work has powerfully altered the city fabric. The award-winning mixed-use Pike and Virginia project was the first new building in Pike Place Market in fifty years and originated a style of architecture in the neighborhood. This building, among other large urban buildings designed by the firm, including Gethsemane Lutheran Church and Lightcatcher at the Whatcom Museum, expresses the power of contextual design—architecture that fits into the cultural, social and economic milieu of a location as well as the built and natural environments.
Olson has been published in publications worldwide, including The New York Times, Architectural Digest, Architectural Record, Art + Auction, Monocle, and Interior Design. His work has been featured in many books, including Jim Olson Houses (The Monacelli Press, 2009), which focuses on sixteen of his residential projects; Art + Architecture: The Ebsworth Collection and Residence (William Stout Publishers, 2006), which focuses on the Olson-designed home of an art collector; and a monograph on the firm’s work, Architecture, Art and Craft: Olson Sundberg Kundig Allen Architects (The Monacelli Press, 2003).
Olson is the recipient of the 2007 Seattle AIA Medal of Honor. He is a member of the College of Fellows of the American Institute of Architecture and has served on the boards of a number of Northwest arts organizations and other community institutions. He is an honorary board member for the Seattle Art Museum. Olson lectures extensively throughout North America on the relationship between architecture, art and nature.
His work is widely recognized through awards, including citations from the American Institute of Architects, the Chicago Athenaeum and the American Association of Museums. In 2012, Olson was inducted into Interior Design magazine’s Hall of Fame. Olson Kundig Architects received the 2009 National AIA Architecture Firm Award (as Olson Sundberg Kundig Allen Architects) and has twice been named one of the Top Ten Most Innovative Companies in Architecture by Fast Company.
“Jim Olson: Architecture for Art” was the first comprehensive exhibition devoted to the career of Olson. The exhibit, which featured twenty-seven of his touchstone projects, six of his feature projects, a full-scale diorama of his cabin and a mural room, debuted at the Museum of Art at Washington State University in October 2011 and ran until December 2011. The exhibit travels to the Lightcatcher at the Whatcom Museum in March of 2013.
A graduate of the University of Washington, Department of Architecture, Olson established his own firm in Seattle in 1966. Since that time the office has grown into a diverse practice with an international reputation, becoming Olson/Walker Architects in 1971, Olson Sundberg Architects in 1985, Olson Sundberg Kundig Allen Architects in 2000, and Olson Kundig Architects in 2010.