Olson Kundig — Practice (2023)

Olson Kundig — Practice (1)

Olson Kundig is a collaborative global design practice whose work expands the context of built and naturallandscapes.

The Firm

The firm is led by 14 principal/owners who are supported by a team of over 250 in both Seattle and New York. Olson Kundig’s in-house Interiors Studio, founded in 2000, and Master Planning & Landscape Design Studio are integral parts of the firm’s practice, resulting in designs that foster a cohesive experience of the entire built environment.

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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.

Working with Artists and Craftspeople

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 the firm’s deep roots 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.

Maria Cristalli, Blacksmith - Working on Fireplace Tools for Portland Hilltop ResidenceMaria Cristalli:206.789.48783600 E Marginal Way S, Ste 20Seattle, WA. 98134-1140maria@speakeasy.net

Glass artist Ed Carpenter working on the rose window at Saint Mark's Cathedral in Seattle
Building Performance

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.

Our design teams approach 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.

My focus is not just on building performance, but on how design affects building performance. That’s why I believe that as designers, we have to lead with passive strategies everyday. Vikram Sami, AIA, BEMP, LEED® AP

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Our Studios

Olson Kundig’s Seattle studio is located in a 19th-century brick manufacturing building in the historic neighborhood of Seattle’s Pioneer Square.A central feature of the design is a fourteen-foot-by-twenty-five-foot counterweighted, hydro-powered skylight that caps the central atrium stair connecting all three floors. The skylight uses only city water pressure as an energy source to move building parts, allowing visitors to interact with and alter the space. The skylight provides natural ventilation and access to daylight, and serves as a focal point “art machine” and systems R&D investigation.Since taking residence in 2003, we have morphed and expanded our own footprint inside the building where our staff of 175 inhabits the top three floors.

Olson Kundig New York, opened in 2022, creates an East coast extension from which to nimbly support clients and projects, while fostering cultural exchange and design dialogue between New York and Seattle.The office is anchored by a signature gathering and event space known as the Living Room where an oversized, 144-square-foot table, designed by Tom Kundig and fabricated by Spearhead, evokes a table laden with candles or a conceptual cityscape rising from the landscape. Created from a tapestry of raw timber offcuts, representing both Olson Kundig projects and the work of other architects, the table introduces a physical embodiment of Pacific Northwest design culture within the new office space.

Opening a New York office space allows us to share a bit of the Pacific Rim and our ‘unstable edge’ mentality with the East Coast, forging new relationships and opportunities for collaboration. That influence goes both ways, of course – shared cultural events and firm culture creates a river that flows between the two cities, exchanging ideas and energy back andforth. Alan Maskin, Principal/Owner

Seattle has changed a lot in the 50 years that I have been practicing here. Many tech companies are now headquartered here, and Seattle has become a center, a hub, between the United States and Asia. We are excited to be doing projects all over the world, particularly in the U.S. andAsia. Jim Olson, FAIA, Principal/Founder

Thursday Night Crits

Every Thursday since the inception of the firm more than five decades ago, the entire staff turns off their computers, puts down their pencils, and convenes to discuss an ongoing project. “Thursday Crit” is more than just a weekly activity for us. It symbolizes the culture of design dialogue and experimentation that defines Olson Kundig. In working together, we seek to make every project in the office the best it can be.

While there is beer and food involved, the prime motivator is a design discussion. Sometimes 50 people will be giving one‑minute sketch presentations. The free flow of ideas consistently makes projects better, and opens up lively discussions about design and how we see the world. This forum is also a great way to connect with one another on a regular basis, and to celebrate individual and collective achievements. Alan Maskin, Principal/Owner

The fact that we’ve been holding weekly crits for over 50 years is amazing. Other firms attempt to have regular crits and it fizzles out. We’ve kept it going. I personally love to brainstorm in my own head, then bounce what I come up with against other people. People are free to say whatever they want. It’s invigorating—a highly generous flow ofideas. Jim Olson, FAIA, Principal/Owner

(Video) Visualizing ‘Analog House’ with Olson Kundig and Twinmotion | Unreal Fest 2022


Reciprocal learning is a key tenet of Olson Kundig’s culture. In 1996, Kirsten Ring Murray and Alan Maskin co-founded the firm’s International Internship Program on this principle. The program provides six-month positions to students and recent architecture graduates from around the world, offering mentorship and experience on actual projects; in exchange, each intern presents to the office on a topic of their choice, enriching us with their knowledge and life experiences. To date, Olson Kundig has hosted interns from more than 30 countries around the world, and every state in the U.S.

The continual influx of talent and energy from around the globe through our internship program has been invaluable to ourpractice. Alan Maskin, Principal/Owner

Speaker Series & Monday Morning Meetings

Every Monday, Olson Kundig starts the week with an all-office meeting. Three times a month, the meeting is devoted to speaker presentations, often by outside guest speakers. The Olson Kundig Speaker Series was created by Alan Maskin over two decades ago with the goal of inspiring staff with presentations from people who work outside the realm of architecture. To date, more than 280 guests have come to speak in our offices. The forum is also available for internal speakers, who share completed project overviews, complex project details, and research findings, all with the aim of increasing our shared knowledge.

The Speaker Series is intended to inspire our staff by exposing them to people doing remarkable work in outside disciplines. Over the years, we have had presentations by local and internationally recognized artists, craftspeople, urban agriculture advocates, performers, oyster farmers, film directors, environmentalists, philanthropists, mathematicians, activists, fashion designers, bookmakers, scientists and even an exoticdancer. Alan Maskin, Principal/Owner

OK Works

Olson Kundig defines research and development as “little r, big D,” meaning that our research efforts are focused on developing ideas into built projects. Realizing that compelling ideas often emerge from both within and outside the framework of the firm, artists, craftspeople, contractors and consultants are regularly invited to participate in design discussions. Our recently expanded shop and maker space provides resources for staff to build models, prototype ideas and test materials. OK Works regularly sponsors workshops and in-house design competitions.

My focus is not just on building performance, but on how design affects building performance. That’s why I believe that as designers, we have to lead with passive strategies everyday. Vikram Sami, AIA, BEMP, LEED® AP, Director of Building Performance

Travel Fellowship & Creative Exchange

Since 2016, Olson Kundig has offered staff a Travel Fellowship program which funds one week of travel and research anywhere in the world. No topic is off limits, and the fellowship encourages staff to seek out and explore self-guided, personally meaningful research topics where the knowledge gained will benefit the firm’s larger practice. So far, staff have traveled to Italy to study the ruins of fascist Rome, England to study furniture making, Austria to learn traditional earthwork techniques, Namibia to photograph light and memory, Japan to study nothingness, and the Czech Republic to study a 13th-century bone church.

In 2016, Olson Kundig hosted our first Creative Exchange Resident, Robin Frohardt. Robin spent several weeks in our office where she developed elements of her installation and performance art. Throughout her residency, Robin offered opportunities for collaboration involving the entire firm, and her project was the subject of several Thursday Crits. Designed to foster dialogue and inject the firm with fresh creative energy, the Creative Exchange Residency Program provides artist residents with a monetary grant and dedicated workspace in our office to develop their work.

Community Involvement & Design Mentorship

Our traditions of design mentorship and hands-on fabrication extend to the youth in our community. We believe that introducing kids to design early on empowers them to actively shape the communities where they live. We have a longstanding mentorship partnership with Sawhorse Revolution, a local non-profit organization that teaches teens carpentry and design through inspiring community projects. We have also participated in design mentorship programs including Seattle Art Museum’s Design Your [Neighbor]Hood, the ACE Mentorship Program, Opportunity Skyway, and the Partnership for Youth program coordinated by the Frye Art Museum and the Associated Recreation Council at Yesler Community Center. Our staff also regularly serve on design juries and teach studios for architecture programs at local universities.

(Video) #290 - Tom Kundig, Owner and Design Principal of Olson Kundig


Social Equity Community
The Social Equity Community is a cohort of Olson Kundig staff supported by firm leadership working towards equity and justice in our workplace and surrounding community through education, reflection and action.

As part of our commitments to an equitable workplace and continued growth, Olson Kundig has committed to measuring ourselves against established external benchmarks that track both successes and areas for improvement:

  • Just Label: The Just Label provides guided self-assessment in key social justice categories including diversity, equity, safety, community engagement and more. Evaluation results and transparency in reporting provides an ongoing catalyst for strengthening the firm’s social justice and equity initiatives.
  • National Organization of Minority Architects Northwest: Olson Kundig joins NOMA NW in their vision for a unified, anti-racist design community. As part of our ongoing, long-term work on behalf of systemic and organizational change, we are proud to be a NOMA NW Gold Sponsor and have committed to the 2020 Call to Action Pledge.

Systemic inequalities that have historically existed in our society and our industry continue to persist today. We believe that inclusion of a diverse range of voices only strengthens our work, culture and community, and acknowledge the extreme urgency of combatting these prejudices.

Gender Inclusivity & Equality
Olson Kundig commits to actively embracing different individuals and gender identities; guarding against discrimination in our actions; and continuing to promote our vision for a diverse society with gender equality. This commitment applies to all aspects of our work and operations. It sets out our collective understandings and guides our policies for equity in representation, opportunity and compensation.

Black Lives Matter
Olson Kundig stands unequivocally against racism and anti-black sentiment. On behalf of our staff, community and industry, we remain committed to the work of combatting racism and discrimination of all kinds. We are committed to shaping a more just, inclusive and equitable future for everyone in our community and to fostering an internal culture where all staff feel seen, valued, heard and safe.

We Stand Against Asian Hate
Olson Kundig condemns all acts of racism against the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community and stands in solidarity with our AAPI colleagues, teammates, collaborators, clients and neighbors. We celebrate the many ways AAPI communities have shaped our nation, and we honor the deep influence Pacific Rim cultures have had on our profession.


In 2009, the American Institute of Architects recognized our firm with its National Architecture Firm Award, citing our hands-on project involvement; creation of inspiring buildings and places; deep commitment to share knowledge with students, interns, clients and community; and collaboration with artists and craftspeople.

Our owners have been honored with some of the nation’s highest design awards, including a National Design Award in Architecture Design from the Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum, an Academy Award in Architecture from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and inductions into Interior Design Magazine’s Hall of Fame.

The firm’s accolades also include American Architecture Awards from the Chicago Athenaeum and national and regional design awards from the American Institute of Architects and the International Interior Design Association. Olson Kundig has been named one of the Top Ten Most Innovative Companies in Architecture by Fast Company, and included on the AD100 list 14 times.

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(Video) Olson Kundig Architects: On the firm's experimental work space: [storefront] Olson Kundig


What are Olson Kundig principles? ›

Olson Kundig commits to actively embracing different individuals and gender identities; guarding against discrimination in our actions; and continuing to promote our vision for a diverse society with gender equality. This commitment applies to all aspects of our work and operations.

What software does Olson Kundig use? ›

Spearhead used non-Autodesk programme CADWORK to create a model which Olson Kundig was able to overlay onto their Revit model so that the design teams could analyse how the design was coming together.

Who owns Olson Kundig? ›

Olson Kundig is pleased to announce the expansion of the firm's ownership group with the elevation of nine Principals to Principal/Owner: Marlene Chen, Jerry Garcia, Edward Lalonde, Blair Payson, Steven Rainville, Daniel Ralls, Jamie Slagel, Enrique Vela and Ming-Lee Yuan.

Where is Olson Kundig Architects located? ›

Located in the Washington Shoe Building in the historic Pioneer Square neighborhood of downtown Seattle, Olson Kundig's Office is an expression of our design practice and office culture.

What are the three 3 guiding principles of architecture? ›

Firmitas (Firmness, Durability) – It should stand up robustly and remain in good condition. Utilitas (Commodity, Utility) – It should be useful and function well for the people using it. Venustas (Delight, Beauty) – It should delight people and raise their spirits.

Which software is best for architectural 3D rendering? ›

Top 10 Architectural Rendering Software
  • SketchUp.
  • Revit.
  • Archicad.
  • D5 Render.
  • Blender.
  • Lumion.
  • Enscape.
  • V-Ray.
Jan 23, 2023

What program does Zaha Hadid use? ›

Zaha Hadid uses SimScale in a number of tactics within their sustainability strategy.

What do architects use for 3D rendering? ›

The most common software used for architecture are Revit, ArchiCAD, All Plan, Sketchup.

How much does an Olson Kundig house cost? ›

The five bedroom, eight bathroom Olson Kundig Collywood House was commissioned by Financier Kipp Nelson and took six years to build. It is presently listed for sale with an asking price of $62,000,000. $48,000,000.

What is the largest architectural firm in the world? ›


What style of architecture is Olson Kundig? ›

Olson Kundig is a Seattle-based architecture studio that's known for custom-creating some of the most impressive architectural details found in design today. Renowned for creation of structurally sturdy yet movable and adaptable buildings, many people have described the firm's work as half-machine, half-architecture.

How many people work at Olson Kundig? ›

With deep roots in the Pacific Northwest, the firm and its team of over 250 work with clients around the world. 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 in which they inhabit.

Where is Tom Kundig from? ›

Tom Kundig was born on October 9, 1954 in Merced, California and raised in Spokane, Washington.

How old is Tom Kundig? ›

What is the golden rule in architecture? ›

One of the simplest ways to impart a sense of balance to a structure is to base it off the principles of the golden rectangle. To explain it simply, a golden rectangle signifies any shape that can be wholly divided into up into a square and a rectangle that, when combined, establish a ratio of 1:1.61.

What are the 3 types of architectural practices? ›

For architecture firms there are three common business models that differentiate firms and how they are run: Efficiency based, Experience based, and Expertise based offices.

What are the 8 pillars of architecture? ›

Russell Versaci, AIA, explains how to create a new old house using the following eight pillars of design: Invent within the rules, respect the character of the place, tell a story over time, build for the ages, detail for authenticity, craft with natural materials, create the patina of age, and incorporate modern ...

What is the first rule of architecture? ›

To be an Architect, you must build your designs. You cannot build your designs if your clients don't want them. You can't make money if you don't sell your designs.

What are the 4 great constructive principles in architecture? ›

Legibility, flexibility, durability, affordability. If a building is successful in these terms, it can be considered 'sustainable' in a wider sense (or maybe just good architecture).

What are the 7 principles of architecture? ›

Seven principles encompass an interesting design.
  • Balance.
  • Rhythm.
  • Emphasis.
  • Proportion and scale.
  • Movement.
  • Contrast.
  • Unity.

What CAD do architects use? ›

Many architects use AutoCAD as a 2D drawing tool for creating floor plans, elevations, and sections. This architectural software speeds up the drawing process with pre-built objects like walls, doors, and windows, that behave like real-world objects.

What software do most architects use? ›

Top Ten Design Software for Architects
  • Rhino 3D. Since its creation in 1998, Rhino 3D has become one of the most popular tools for architectural design. ...
  • Revit Architecture. The building information modelling (BIM) concept is key in modern architecture. ...
  • SketchUp. ...
  • V-Ray. ...
  • AutoCAD. ...
  • Maya. ...
  • ArchiCAD. ...
  • Grasshopper.

What is the most realistic 3D software? ›

Top 10 3D Rendering Software
  • Maya.
  • 3ds Max Design.
  • D5 Render.
  • KeyShot.
  • Lumion.
  • Cinema 4D.
  • V-Ray.
  • Autodesk Arnold.
Mar 1, 2023

How long did Zaha Hadid teach at Harvard? ›

The GSD celebrates the life and contributions of Zaha Hadid. Hadid first taught at the GSD in 1986 as a Design Critic in Architecture, and then again in 1994 as Kenzo Tange Visiting Professor of Architecture. She last spoke at the School in 2013.

What technique did Zaha Hadid use? ›

Drawing and painting were fundamental to Hadid's practice. Influenced by Malevich, Tatlin and Rodchenko, she used calligraphic drawings as the main method for visualising her architectural ideas.

What made Zaha Hadid so good? ›

The Iraqi-British Zaha Hadid became famous for her intensely futuristic architecture characterized by curving façades, sharp angles, and severe materials such as concrete and steel.

What design software does Joanna Gaines use? ›

What does Joanna Gaines use for design software? Joanna Gaines, the star of HGTV's Fixer Upper, uses SketchUp Pro to demonstrate her interior designs for clients.

How much do 3D architectural renderings cost? ›

The hourly rate for a 3D rendering typically ranges between $50 and $150. By taking advantage of lower labor costs, studios in developing countries charge less. Depending on the studio's location, you will see a significant difference in price.

What are the principles of Brutalism? ›

Brutalism is a style with an emphasis on materials, textures and construction, producing highly expressive forms.

What are the principles of housing design? ›

Your home design should have an efficient floor plan that eliminates redundant space, maximizes usable space, and reduces unnecessary square footage. The shape and form of your home should also be a simple design that is easy and efficient to build and incorporates cost-effective materials and simple details.

What are the principles of vernacular architecture? ›

Vernacular architecture is defined by the use of traditional resources, materials, and knowledge. It is the built environment based on the needs of a community and is a direct representation of identity; it reflects traditions, culture, and religion. Setting down roots always leaves a mark.

What are the three principles in architecture according to Vitruvius? ›

Writing near the end of the first century B.C.E., Roman architect Vitruvius Pollio identified three elements necessary for a well-designed building: firmitas, utilitas, and venustas. Firmness or physical strength secured the building's structural integrity.

Why do architects love Brutalism? ›

Perhaps no other architectural style elicits the emotional reaction that brutalism does. Brutalist architecture looks heavy and immovable but is artistically sculptural giving it unique qualities that rely on depth to create patterns and compositions with light and shadows.

Who is the father of Brutalism? ›

The genesis of the brutalist design movement can be credited to French-Swiss Modernist architect Le Corbusier, who over a career spanning 50 years, designed several buildings across the world and is known for pioneering reinforced concrete columns that could support the weight of the building.

What are the 4 basic design rules? ›

Effective design centres on four basic principles: contrast, repetition, alignment and proximity. These appear in every design.

What are the 5 principles of good design? ›

Principles of design
  • Balance.
  • Alignment.
  • Proximity.
  • Repetition.
  • Contrast.
Feb 27, 2019

What are the 8 basic principles of design? ›

The elements, or principles, of visual design include Contrast, Balance, Emphasis, Movement, White Space, Proportion, Hierarchy, Repetition, Rhythm, Pattern, Unity, and Variety. These principles of design work together to create something that is aesthetically pleasing and optimizes the user experience.

What are the five fundamentals of architecture? ›


Architecture depends on Order, Eurythmy, Symmetry, Propriety, and Economy.

What is the Golden Triangle in architecture? ›

Golden Triangle: Connotes an isosceles triangle in which the smaller side is in golden ratio with its adjacent side. Logarithmic Spiral: Can be created by taking an existing golden triangle and bisecting the angles to make another golden triangle and continuing indefinitely.


1. ArchDaily Interview: Tom Kundig at AIA'19
2. How To Blend The Art Of Business With Architecture (w/ Olson Kundig CEO Hemanshu Parwani "HP")
3. Olson Kundig: Anthology
4. Bowman Design Forum: Olson Kundig Architects - part I
5. Tom Kundig
(The Dallas Architecture Forum)
6. Architect Kirsten Ring Murray (Olson Kundig Architects) Interviewed by Sarah Semple Brown
(AIA Colorado)
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