Olson Kundig is a full-service design firm whose work includes residences (often for art collectors), museums and exhibition design, hospitality projects, commercial design, academic buildings, interior design, visual identities, and places of worship.
Kirsten R. Murray
The firm is led by five owners—Jim Olson, Tom Kundig, Kirsten R. Murray, Alan Maskin, and Kevin Kudo-King—who are supported by three principals, twenty one associates, and a staff of approximately 140 in the historic Pioneer Square neighborhood of downtown Seattle. The firm opened a workspace in New York in 2014 to better serve its expanding roster of East Coast and international clients. The in-house interiors studio, founded in 2000, provides a full range of services, including material selection, custom furniture design, and purchasing capabilities.
The firm began its creative existence in 1966 with the architect Jim Olson, whose work at that time centered on explorations of the relationship between dwellings and the landscapes in which they inhabit. Olson started the firm based on the essential ideas that buildings can serve as a bridge between nature, culture, histories, and people, and that inspiring surroundings have a positive effect on people’s lives.
Over the five decades of its existence, the firm has grown and broadened its expertise far beyond the residences for which it is still best known. It consciously devotes a consistent energy and enthusiasm to every project, no matter whether the task at hand is a cabin in the woods or a high-rise in Seoul. Every finished project manifests a “macro to micro” level of attention, from the big ideas to the smallest details, giving coherence to the entire experience of the built site.
The geographical scope of the work has grown to cover five continents, in locations ranging from the rural landscapes of Montana and Idaho to intensively urban contexts in Manhattan and Mumbai. But no matter the situation, the same philosophies—for instance a careful consideration of the environment, attunement to local materials and culture, and seeking out the expertise and contributions of craftspeople, artists, and other outside experts—continue to apply to each new undertaking.
Among the firm’s accolades are the 2009 National AIA Architecture Firm Award (as Olson Sundberg Kundig Allen Architects); dozens of national and regional design awards from the American Institute of Architects; American Architecture Awards from the Chicago Athenaeum; Jim Olson’s 2007 Seattle Medal of Honor; and Tom Kundig’s National Design Award from the Smithsonian Cooper-Hewitt and his Academy Award in Architecture from the American Academy of Arts and Letters.
Olson and Kundig were inducted into the Interior Design Hall of Fame in 2012. For two years in a row, the firm was named one of the Top Ten Most Innovative Companies in Architecture by Fast Company.
All of the owners lecture extensively on design, regularly serve as university studio critics, and are board members for civic institutions and jury awards programs.
Books on the firm’s work
Books on the firm’s work include Tom Kundig: Works (Princeton Architectural Press, 2015); [storefront] Olson Kundig (CreateSpace, 2014); Jim Olson: Art in Architecture (Whatcom Museum, 2013); Tom Kundig: Houses 2 (Princeton Architectural Press, 2011); Jim Olson Houses (Monacelli Press, 2009); Tom Kundig: Houses (Princeton Architectural Press, 2006); Art + Architecture: The Ebsworth Collection + Residence (William Stout Publishers, 2006); and a monograph of the firm’s work, Olson Sundberg Kundig Allen Architects: Architecture, Art and Craft (Monacelli Press, 2003).
The firm’s award-winning work has been widely exhibited and published, including in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, Wallpaper, Financial Times, Architectural Digest, and Architectural Record, and it has been featured numerous times on the covers of books and magazines.
Working with artists and craftspeople is integral at Olson Kundig. In some cases, the architecture becomes the vessel that supports specific art installations. In others, the architecture and art are formed together to create a seamless spatial experience. In nearly all of its projects, the firm works with craftspeople to fabricate specific elements that support the larger intent.
Frequently, evidence of a maker’s hand will remain explicit and embedded throughout a project; perhaps a steel worker’s grind marks will be visible on a metal rail, or the rough edges of a sawn wood piece will be left exposed. This valuing of craft has its origin in part in the firm’s location in the Pacific Northwest, and also in its understanding of buildings as collaborative efforts that involve not just the architect, but the contractor and the workers as well.
Olson Kundig strives to create buildings that are embraced by their inhabitants, respect their surroundings, and treat natural resources as precious. Sustainability is an integral part of the entire design process. A careful consideration of the site, starting from the very first phases of conceptualization, can result in a building that actively capitalizes on its immediate environment in terms of temperature regulation, water conservation, air flow, and dozens more considerations. A maximally efficient, healthy building features passive cooling, natural ventilation, and daylight management; incorporates recycled and repurposed materials when possible; and reflects a careful lifecycle cost analysis.
The architectural staff is experienced with building information modeling (BIM/Revit). This facilitates the management of design so that during fabrication, every possible component has been tested and crafted with extreme precision. The staff is also experienced with LEED® certified design, the Living Building Challenge, and the Passive House standard. Their expertise is supported by an in-house team of quality control, graphics, and technical specialists. The in-house sustainability advancement group oversees in-house research initiatives, promotes staff literacy in sustainability through programs and conferences, and promotes LEED education and accreditation. Olson Kundig is a member of the Seattle Climate Partnership.
The firm’s commitment to the community extends to a wide range of activities. There is an employer match program to support nonprofit organizations, and hundreds of hours are donated every year in service. Each of the principals is active in the community through service on boards and through the donation of expertise. For the past several years the firm has led the category for architecture and engineering firms in fundraising for Food Lifeline, a non-profit providing creative solutions to stopping hunger, including redirecting good food from manufacturers, farmers, grocery stores and restaurants that might otherwise go to waste.
The firm most recently provided design mentorship to high school students as part of Sawhorse Revolution, a non-profit carpentry program for high school students from diverse and low-income families. Their project, The Nest, is a micro-house destined for a homeless encampment.
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