Partner Profile

Kirsten R. Murray

Throughout her 28-year tenure at the firm, Murray has designed a range of project types, from private residences to mixed-used buildings, multi-family developments, art spaces, historic commercial renovations and urban design projects.

An owner and principal of Olson Kundig, Kirsten R. Murray’s body of work is characterized by authentic, contextual buildings and spaces that result from a collaborative design partnership with her clients and colleagues. No matter the size or project type, Murray is known for integrating community members and stakeholders throughout the process, shaping the design around their collective goals.

"I’ve always believed that people are happier and more productive, and communities are more engaged and connected, in well-designed spaces. I seek to design transformative experiences—buildings and spaces that enhance the everyday lives of those who live and work within."

—Kirsten R. Murray

What emerges from Murray’s considered investigations into the habits and desires of a building’s end-users are engaging spaces that feel authentic to the people they serve. Long inspired by Scandinavian modernist traditions, Murray’s architecture emphasizes warmth, natural materiality, tactility and refinement. Her creative and innovative workspaces, particularly for international technology clients such as Oculus, exemplify her interest in programmatic flexibility, allowing for adjacencies that might have otherwise been left undiscovered. Murray is known for upending traditional workplace programs by injecting them with principles from her vast residential experience, imagining for example how a lobby could become like a living room or an informal workspace like a front door. What results are sophisticated yet hardworking spaces that are very much about creating a framework for people to activate and enliven.

"I’m always interested in how you can reimagine the way a building or a space works by questioning and exploring the program. As an architect, I investigate how the everyday can become something surprising."

—Kirsten R. Murray

Murray is most inspired by projects that blend old and new—those that draw on a collective intelligence of users and designers as well as the character of surrounding elements. By translating the innate conditions of a site—its nature, culture, topography and history—into built form, Murray’s designs create new interpretations of place that remain relevant over time. This is most evident in her commercial mixed-use and urban infill projects, which often involve an adaptive reuse or urban revitalization component. For these projects, including Seattle’s Broadacres Building and 520 Pike, Murray conceives of her design as one layer in an ever-accumulating urban strata. By carefully integrating new construction within existing neighborhoods, and considering how her designs might allow future layers of use, Murray highlights the many threads of development that define an urban fabric. For it is this layering, this connection to the past, that can create a sense of shared history so integral to community making.

"Design is not always about what you add to a site, but rather how you acknowledge, and in some cases revere, what might already be there."

—Kirsten R. Murray

In her master planning work, Murray is committed to improving urban design by creating walkable cities and cultural gathering spaces. With several large-scale, mixed-use projects in downtown Seattle either recently completed or in progress, Murray is helping reinvigorate the urban context of her home city. She is currently designing a new cultural hub for the Seattle Office of Arts & Culture in the historic Pioneer Square neighborhood, drawing directly on community feedback to inform the design of the space’s community gathering areas, galleries, and theater. This project exemplifies Murray’s interest in engaging communities through arts and cultural spaces—spaces with the potential to elevate their surrounding urban context.

"Cultural buildings have the power to transform their surrounding environment and engage communities in a way that no other building type can. I often think of myself as an ambassador for the power of creative culture, both within our firm, and in my wider design practice."

—Kirsten R. Murray

Murray has long been an inquisitive leader within the firm itself, pioneering many of the programs and core practices that have helped Olson Kundig grow from a small, regional architectural firm to an internationally recognized design practice with more than 160 employees. Many of these contributions, such as Olson Kundig’s international internship program, integrated studio organization, and community engagement programs, were cited as specific distinctions when the firm was honored with the AIA National Firm Award in 2009.

"One of the things I love about Olson Kundig is our involvement with the arts and education. We often collaborate with and sponsor organizations that are doing important work in the community. We strive to be good citizens, both locally in the design community and beyond, making robust contributions to learning and to the wider profession, and always striving to do work that is inclusive."

—Kirsten R. Murray

She has led numerous firm-wide initiatives to cultivate connectivity both within the firm, and between Olson Kundig and the larger community. In 2011, Murray and co-director Alan Maskin launched [storefront], an experimental design space in Pioneer Square where, over its two-year run, the firm hosted a series of investigative, community-based projects. In recognition of her many contributions to the wider field of architecture, in 2016 Murray was elevated to the AIA College of Fellows. She has also served on the National AIA Trust Board in a number of capacities, including chair, trustee, treasurer and vice-chair.

Murray’s most recent notable projects include Paradise Road Housing at Smith College, Copine Restaurant, Gawker Media Headquarters and a digital innovation lab for Capital One.

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