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, landscape design, 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 eleven principals, fifteen 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 landscape design studio provides in-house design services dedicated to artfully integrating nature and the built environment.
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 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 more than fifteen countries on five continents, in locations ranging from the rural landscapes of Montana and Idaho to dense 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 and the International Interior Design Association; 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 and named to the AD 100 in 2016. 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, ARCHITECT, 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. The emphasis on craft is an outgrowth of Olson Kundig’s contextual approach to design, as working with artists and craftspeople local to our projects around the world helps the work tell an authentic story of its place.
At Olson Kundig, we believe that world-class design and building performance are intrinsically connected. Our humanistic approach to sustainable design acknowledges that performance is driven by people, place and program. By blurring the boundaries between inside and outside, our buildings connect people to nature, leading to healthy and productive environments where individuals are engaged in their surroundings. Our architecture reminds people that they are deeply intertwined with the environment, even when they are inside.
The architectural staff approaches building performance with an intuitive sensibility, employing advanced software tools to test and challenge this intuition. We use a wide variety of analytical tools at various stages of the design process to understand a building’s energy use, thermal comfort, materials impact, natural ventilation, daylight management and a host of other performance considerations. Vikram Sami, our director of building performance, works closely with design teams to ensure that performance strategies inform the design process from a project’s inception. As a demonstration of our leadership within the building industry, we have joined the AIA 2030 Commitment and actively incorporate national sustainability standards including LEED®, WELL Building and Passivhaus into our designs.
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.
Olson Kundig is active in several local design mentorship and education programs in the community, including Seattle Art Museum’s Design Your [Neighbor]Hood, Skyway Opportunity, and the ACE Mentorship Program. Since 2014, the firm has partnered with Sawhorse Revolution, a non-profit carpentry program for high school students from diverse and low-income families. Most recently, Olson Kundig worked with Sawhorse students to design and construct “The Hub,” a much-needed security booth for a homeless encampment in Seattle.
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