Tye River Cabin
Tim Bies Tye River Cabin
From left: Alan Maskin, Jim Olson, Tom Kundig, and Kirsten R. Murray
Thomas M. Barwick From left: Alan Maskin, Jim Olson, Tom Kundig, and Kirsten R. Murray

Tom Kundig, FAIA, describes his firm as one that values modernism but allows its different interpretations to be tested. “We’re an anomaly in that we continue to nurture this whole idea of different strong voices that can emerge with their own DNA,” he says. From museums and houses to academic and commercial buildings, Olson Kundig’s work ranges widely in style, scope, cost, and complexity, and so does its imagination. Each project, though, shares an intuitive relationship to its surroundings and seeks to “affirm connections rather than differences.”

Inspired by the Pacific Northwest’s dramatic backdrop and its thriving crafts culture, Olson Kundig’s houses, however modest or luxurious, move seamlessly among nature, art, and architecture. A fascination with the elemental qualities of materials and sunlight infuses all of the firm’s work, from the sparkling and sophisticated, like the downtown loft that celebrates Seattle’s skyline, to the tough-as-nails, like the Idaho outpost. Among its latest accolades is the American Institute of Architects’ 2009 Firm of the Year award.

“Architects who have specific styles give clients a sense that they have to toe the line, but we don’t approach problems that way,” says principal Kirsten R. Murray, AIA. She adds, “The most gratifying thing is when you show up as a guest in a home you’ve designed and see that they’ve taken ownership of it, adding things you hadn’t necessarily imagined. That it has a life of its own.”

What is the most gratifying aspect of residential practice?

The clients and the landscapes, whether urban, suburban, or rural. There are so many variations and idiosyncrasies.

What is the most frustrating aspect?

When clients don’t understand the limits imposed on a project, whether they’re economic, structural, or code-related.

What is your mission statement or firm goal?

To do the best possible job on anything that comes our way.

What is the most indispensable tool in your office?

The people.

What software does your firm use?

We’re actively changing to Revit. A Hawaii project drawn in Revit is being shipped to Hawaii on barges. It’s a real pleasure to watch how everything works in that realm.

Who is your ideal client?

One who actively engages the process and trusts me to solve their program issues.

What is your favorite building?

The most meaningful experiences for me have been Chartres Cathedral, Le Corbusier’s Notre Dame du Haut Ronchamp Chapel, the Therme Vals spa, and any of Carlo Scarpa’s work.

If you didn’t have the time to design your own house, who would you hire?

My immediate reaction was Glenn Murcutt, because even as a kid his work resonated with me. Since then, any number of people.