Two Minutes With // Tom Kundig, of Olson Kundig Architects

Hello everyone! We are very pleased to release today’s interview with Tom Kundig, FAIA, of Olson Kundig Architects. Tom Kundig’s work encompasses residential, commercial and institutional and is located around the world. His signature detailing and raw, kinetic constructions explore new forms of engagement with site and landscape which he frames in the workings of unique, building-size machines. Check out Olson Kundig’s website to see more amazing work.

Tom Kundig is one of the most recognized architects in North America. He has received some of the USA’s highest design awards — a National Design Award in Architecture Design from the Smithsonian Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum and an Academy Award in Architecture from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, which recognizes creative individuals whose work is characterized by a strong personal direction — in addition to four National AIA Honor Awards and seven National AIA Housing Awards. Olson Kundig Architects received the 2009 National AIA Architecture Firm Award (as Olson Sundberg Kundig Allen Architects) and has twice been named one of the Top Ten Most Innovative Companies in Architecture by Fast Company. Kundig was inducted into Interior Design magazine’s Hall of Fame in 2012. Additionally, the Tom Kundig Collection has won a 2012 Best of Year Award from InteriorDesign magazine.

Images courtesy of Kyle Johnson, and Benjamin Benschneider, respectively.

VT: In your interview with ArchRecord back in 2007, you said: “Truly the best architects, historically, have been the ones that have understood the home needs, the shelter needs, at its root.” Your refinements to designs of interior elements and interior spaces are elegant and timeless, and seem to convey a sense of purity and truth in material, detail, scale, and nature. How do your design decisions reflect your “root” understanding of architecture and design, and does this understanding expose an insight to your use of raw materials as interior finishes?

TK: If you start with the belief in the primacy of the site, material choices become a direct response to that particular place. I think it is important not to compete with the landscape and to acknowledge the place of architecture within the larger space. Materials that reveal their making connect architecture to place and unite it with its landscape.

VT: We love your use of reclaimed materials in the Sedgwick Rd. and Stadium Nissan of Seattle projects. Can you share some thoughts on your approach to using reclaimed materials, and why you choose to design with them?

TK: I find great beauty in the history of a material that is achieved through time. As materials age, they develop their own history — a patina that is honestly earned and reveals the history of that objects creation, making and use. Reusing materials, or simply leaving them in place and incorporating them into new space, acknowledges the continuity of the world around us … that everything is connected.

VT: We noticed that you’ve recently come out with a new product line, the Tom Kundig Collection. This accessory line is a collection of beautifully detailed yet simplistic hardware designs. Can you share a bit about your inspiration for this?

TK: We had been thinking of designing a commercial product line for quite some time but hadn’t felt the time was right. 12thAvenue Iron approached us with an offer to work together and things just fell into place. We felt there was a need in the marketplace for simple yet materially rich designs for the everyday building components folks touch all the time — door knobs and cabinet pulls, etc. The line is an opportunity for us to take our approach to full-service design projects and provide it to a broader audience.

Close collaboration with craftspeople and artists is a significant aspect of our work — custom designed elements and furniture are a part of virtually every project we work on — so it was a natural evolution for us to consider a line of products.

Seattle has a great tradition of craft and invention. The industries that historically led to the growth of Seattle and the Northwest — logging, mining, fishing, airplane manufacturing, and many others — required a highly skilled workforce; a workforce that appreciated and understood the crafting of things. I think that’s why there’s such a strong connection to materials and their shaping in this area. All of the pieces are meant to be honest about how they are made and what they are made from.

VT: It has been said that you support a strong Internship Program within your office. As a mentor, what do you enjoy teaching young designers the most? Do these experiences ever lead you to any self-reflective moments?

TK: Architecture is hard work. I always tell students to have patience … the practice of architecture is complicated … there is so much to learn.

What has happened in the past no doubt influences what is to come. But for me, the exploration of what’s next is my focus … the past will simply be a part of it.