Olson Kundig Office

Location Seattle, Washington
Design Principal Tom Kundig

Located in the historic Washington Shoe Building in the Pioneer Square Historic District, the design is ultimately an exercise in measured response—placing emphasis on aspects with the greatest return. The design of this adaptive reuse project limits its impact on the existing space; new elements are pulled away from the perimeter walls to limit contact with the existing historic structure and to take advantage of better natural daylight and circulation paths through the office.

The skylight mechanism and steel stair beneath it, the rawness and simplicity of their functions, are a good representation of what we do.

Tom Kundig Design Principal

The design challenge centered around a modest budget that allowed for only one indulgence; in this case a 14′ x 25′ counterweighted skylight that provides multiple functions, from a sprinkler system for the garden roof and whole-office ventilation to a focal point “art machine,” access to natural daylight and a systems R&D-investigation.

Sectional slices between the floors are like anatomical cuts into the architecture—revealing layers of the original skeletal structure, the sub structural materials and the outer layers of the finished materials.

The 28’ x 16’ glass skylight is hydro-powered and was inspired by a water pressure boat lift (a single watering hose lifted an entire boat out of the water.) Tom Kundig and gizmologist Phil Turner appreciated the low-tech solution and applied the technology of using water to lift the six ton glass skylight.

The gizmo used to open and close the lid is made of two intersecting circles derived from standard antique steam valves. The skylight is controlled by “puzzle” levers that require the user to close one valve before opening the other one. The skylight uses only city water pressure as an energy source to move building parts, thus allowing visitors to interact with and alter the space.

Sustainable ideas were explored through the natural ventilation strategy (skylight and open stair for a chimney effect), not painting the warehouse walls or even the old windows (left “as is”), using masonite for floors and walls (a highly recycled content material left unpainted), and unpainted steel.



Design Principal

Tom Kundig


Phil Turner



Gamache, Shawna. “AIA gives OSKA top national award.” Seattle Daily Journal of Commerce, 8 Dec. 2008. Print.

Riordan, John, and Kristen Becker. The Good Office: Green Design on the Cutting Edge. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, Oct. 2008. Book.

Sackett, Peter. “The I.D. 40: Creative Workspaces.” I.D. Magazine, Jan. 2008, 75. Print.


Van Ert, Theresa and Marina Cescon. “Acciaio In Movimento/Steel in Movement.” Acciaio Arte Architettura, June 2007, 64-71. Print.

Walker, Alissa. “Space Shot: You Wish You Worked Here.” Fast Company, April 2007, 102-107. Print.


Enlow, Clair. “AIA Project of the Month: Architect faces tough clients: his partners.” Seattle Daily Journal of Commerce, 4 Aug. 2004, 3. Print. Web. 

Enlow, Clair. “Machine Language.” Metropolis Magazine, July 2004, 54. Print.

Webb, Michael. “An Open and Shut Case.” Frame, Nov. 2004, 102-109. Print.

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