Inhabitat: Why do you think sustainability remains largely outside of theoretical discussions of architecture? Sustainability can be clever, innovative, it can justify designs, but by in large it is not a realm of theoretical review. Themes such as space, aesthetics, and cities are constant avenues for debate, speculation and experiment, but sustainability still seems thin. Thoughts?
Tom Kundig: Sustainability has been relegated to the ‘science’ side of practice, both by the practitioners and in academia. Architecture at its core is the intersection of the rational and the poetic. If architecture, academics and practitioners can embrace that idea and respect the two realms of the practice, this question would not have to be asked. Unfortunately the question is a good one.
Chicken Point Cabin, Idaho
Inhabitat: Many well-known architects make it a point to establish offices in large cities, but even with your success Olson + Kundig remains in the (arguably) more remote Pacific Northwest. What impact do you think being a Seattle-based firm has had on your work?
Tom Kundig: Not entirely sure. I’m sure there are impacts that we are not aware of – are we ‘mysterious’ because we are remote, or are we ‘removed from the action’? My guess is that it might be both, but the most important consideration is how we do our work. In a large landscape like the Pacific Northwest – and in a relatively large city like Seattle that is connected internationally – we might have the best of both worlds. Irregardless, our work is context based - cultural, environmental, craft, tectonics, and so forth – and we are in an ideal location where all these elements converge.
Inhabitat: Are you concerned about environmental and social sustainability in your buildings? If so, what role does green building play into your work?
Tom Kundig: I am absolutely concerned about it. And I’m not speaking strictly of the environmental, because the process of building and what’s required to maintain a building consumes not only a significant amount of natural resources, but also has a huge influence on cultural and social sustainability. Ultimately architecture is cultural and social – it is shelter at its most basic human level, and within the spirit of that notion, it is a deeply humanistic endeavor.
Inhabitat: What do you feel is the greatest challenge when it comes to designing for environmental sustainability?
Tom Kundig: The greatest challenge is designing to an authenticity that recognizes the true issues of sustainability, not just treating it as a check list of items or simplifying it to accomodate to score keeping. Sustainability takes on a true, holistic understanding of all the implications of a design.