"We are interested in design and art and science. We think of landscape, buildings, furnishings, and art as all intertwined, all continuous. That general philosophy plays itself out in the tremendous variety of project types we undertake. We’re known mostly for residential work but we do it all, from a bathroom remodel to an art collector’s home that is more like a civic building than a house."
"We have a strong culture of critique, and of community. Some creative people want to keep things to themselves, so no one can steal their idea. We’re the opposite. We throw things out there, and everyone goes to town with it. The person whose project it is can take whatever they want out of the discussion, then go back to work. There’s a productive back-and-forth between individuals and the group."
"Anyone who starts to work here will immediately find that being on the staff is like a continuing education course that never ends. There’s something going on almost every day: artists, technical experts, or craftspeople coming in to speak. We put a lot of energy into r+D. There are constant opportunities to share your personal interests, travels, or academic background at lunches and other forums. I’m very proud of that. This is a highly developmental place."
—Kirsten R. Murray
"Since before I arrived here, the firm has always had dual ambitions: to produce excellent design work for our clients, and to be one of the best places to work. It is an understatement to say that we feel we’ve exceeded our wildest imagination for what is possible, but our collective ambition compels us to reinvent and adapt. The hunger for new design challenges and the hope for the unachievable goal of perfecting our practice gets me out of bed every morning."
Olson Kundig’s office is located in a turn-of-the-century brick manufacturing building in the historic Pioneer Square neighborhood of downtown Seattle.
Over the years, the office has made Pioneer Square a kind of petri dish for experimentation, for instance by hosting the [storefront] project in an empty ground-floor retail space, or undertaking research on Rooftop 4, a conceptual design to link all of the rooftops of the neighborhood’s buildings.
"Seattle has changed a lot in the 50 years that I have been practicing here. It used to be considered a little backwater in the far corner of the country. But thanks to the Internet and the many tech companies that are headquartered here, Seattle is now a center, a hub, between the United States and Asia. We are excited to be doing projects all over the world, particularly in the U.S. and Asia."
Olson Kundig defines research and development as “little r, big D,” meaning that its research efforts are focused on developing ideas into built projects. Realizing that compelling ideas often emerge from both within and outside the framework of the firm, artists, craftspeople, contractors, and consultants are regularly invited to participate in design discussions.
"We have dedicated energy around r+D—a lot of in-house leadership supporting it. We offer grants to projects and fund research that will enhance what we can offer in terms of energy, products, innovation. We try to pair r+D efforts with projects that offer opportunities to do new things. The fact that we’re doing exhibition design and product design, for instance, makes us more ‘without limits’ than most architecture and design firms."
—Kirsten R. Murray
Olson Kundig believes that architects are obligated to solve more than functional or aesthetic needs; they must satisfy a sense of delight and address the impact of the building industry on the earth’s natural resources. With that in mind, it looks to identify and foster compelling ideas into actionable concepts. Recent research efforts have allowed the firm to incorporate pre-manufactured, digitally designed building components into construction; develop a window system that is both large in scale and highly efficient; and design a Passive House in an extreme northern climate that far exceeds the standard.
Three Mondays a month, Olson Kundig starts the day with an all-office meeting and a new installment of the visiting speaker series.
To date, more than 250 guests have come to speak. Soon, the presentations will be filmed and shared with the world on a Vimeo channel devoted to the series.
"The intent is to inspire the staff to up their game by exposing them to people doing remarkable work in outside disciplines. Over the years, we have had presentations by local and internationally recognized artists, craftspeople, urban agriculture advocates, performers, oyster farmers, film directors, environmentalists, philanthropists, mathematicians, activists, fashion designers, bookmakers, scientists, and even an exotic dancer."
Every Thursday since the inception of the firm more than four decades ago, the entire staff turns off their computers, puts down their pencils, and convenes to discuss and dissect an ongoing project. The intent is to make every project in the office the best it can be.
"While there is beer and food involved, the prime motivator is a design discussion. Sometimes 50 people will be giving one-minute scratch presentations. The free flow of ideas consistently makes projects better, and opens up lively discussions about design and how we see the world. This forum is also a great way to connect with one another on a regular basis, and to celebrate individual and collective achievements."
"The fact that we’ve been doing it for 45 years is frankly amazing. Other firms attempt to have regular crits and it fizzles out. We’ve kept it going. I personally love to brainstorm in my own head, then bounce what I come up with against other people. People are free to say whatever they want. It’s invigorating—a highly generous flow of ideas."
"The continual influx of talent and energy from around the globe has been invaluable to our practice."
Partners Kirsten Murray and Alan Maskin were co-creators of the firm’s international Internship Program, which began almost two decades ago. It provides six-month positions to recent architecture graduates, giving them mentorship and experience on actual project teams. To date, Olson Kundig has hosted interns from more than 30 countries around the world, and every state in the United States. For each of the 12 positions offered annually, approximately 30 applications come in.
Mind Mine, an outgrowth of Olson Kundig’s in-house research and development practice, seeks to tap into the firm’s collective mental power to explore topics related to its spectrum of design work. Mind Mine is a communal dialogue that permeates conversations and projects from all corners of the office.
Each two-hour idea charrette is devoted to a specific topic involving research, design, presentation, and discussion. The staff challenges itself to rethink established solutions with the intent of expanding its knowledge of disciplines outside pure architecture, such as the hard sciences, engineering, technology, craft, and nature. By the end of the series, which is an experiment itself, the firm hopes to witness the physical development of several ideas that were explored together.
"Through Mind Mine, the staff discovers new ideas and technical pathways to make a progressive impact on our work, continually building its relevance to the design world. We see these conversations as a means of breaking down boundaries and encouraging creative thinking."
Filter archive by