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interview: tom kundig discusses his collaborative, hands on approach to architecture
Milan, Lombardy, Italy
Media, Architecture, Interior Design
philip stevens
Date Published: 
Interview, Q/A, Leadership, Tom Kundig, Architecture
Tapestry Statistics:
2020-06-23 20:34:42
2020-06-23 20:39:50
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nic lehoux
tom kundig is an owner and design principal of olson kundig, an architecture firm that works globally from its headquarters in seattle. across his diverse body of work in locations around the world, kundig is known for his elemental approach to design where rugged materials are left in raw or natural states to evolve over time. kundig’s projects — from a sprawling hawaii residence to a 15-story commercial headquarters in seoul — are presented as part of a new book ‘tom kundig: working title’.

coinciding with the release of the publication, which spotlights a total of 29 projects, we spoke with tom kundig who discussed his introduction to architecture and the importance of a ‘hands on’ approach. read the interview in full below.

designboom (DB): can you start by describing your background and why you wanted to practice architecture?

tom kundig (TK): to be honest, I didn’t want to practice architecture. my dad was an architect, so I felt like I had been immersed in that world and kind of knew what architecture was all about, and knew that it wasn’t for me. I was drawn to physics initially, and it wasn’t until I was at the university of washington and taking all kinds of different courses — history, math, hard sciences, literature, art — that I realized the intersection of all those interests was architecture.

DB: how would you describe your approach to architecture? has it changed over time?

TK: I’ve always been a very context-driven designer. my work draws on its specific context to create spaces that feel authentic, meaningful and human in scale. if you start with the primacy of the site, everything else becomes a direct response to that particular place. I think it is important not to compete with the landscape — built or natural — and to acknowledge the place of architecture within the larger context. that approach hasn’t necessarily changed, but the kinds of projects I work on have. the new book, tom kundig: working title, is really about tracing that thread through a variety of different programs and scales. whether it’s a small home or a museum or an office tower, whether urban or rural, the design of every project is informed by its context.

DB: how do you develop your ideas with other members of olson kundig?

TK: we are a highly collaborative firm and we all learn from each other, not just as teammates on a specific project but as an office. sometimes that happens spontaneously — I might see something on someone’s desk or overhear someone speaking about their project, and it sparks a new idea or a different solution. other times it’s the result of a more deliberate approach to sharing. we have established, recurring, office-wide opportunities to share ideas, get feedback and critique each other, which benefits everyone’s work and development. knowledge-sharing is a big part of the culture of curiosity, critical dialogue, innovation and open collaboration that we work to foster here.

Organizations Mentioned: (2)
Olson Kundig
Seattle, Washington, USA
University of Washington
Seattle, Washington, USA
Higher Education