Gallery: INHABITAT INTERVIEW: 8 Questions with Architect Tom Kundig

Rolling Huts, Mazama, Washington
Responding to the owner’s need for space to house visitors, the Rolling Huts are several steps above camping, while remaining low-tech and low-impact in their design. The huts sit lightly on the site, a flood plain meadow in an alpine river valley. The owner purchased the site, formerly a RV campground, with the aim of allowing the landscape return to its natural state. The wheels lift the structures above the meadow, providing an unobstructed view into nature and the prospect of the surrounding mountains.

The huts are grouped as a herd: while each is sited towards a view of the mountains (and away from the other structures), their proximity unites them. They evoke Thoreau’s simple cabin in the woods; the structures take second place to nature.

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.

Inhabitat: You’re the sole N. American representative in Toto Gallery MA’s “Global Ends – Towards the Beginning” an exhibit that hopes to inspire architects to break away from the architectural uniformity resulting from past movements. Modernism has clearly been the most dominant and continues to permeate design – what are your thoughts on its value today?

Tom Kundig: Modernism at its core is a humanistic value. It is about shelter, about culture, and about equality, safety, and nurturing for a better future for EVERYBODY. Unfortunately today, many of these values have been lost in stylistic fashion.  I am hopeful that the next movement will be about a meaningful search for a humanistic architecture. This is an idea that will never go out of style.

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.

Delta Shelter, Washington State

Inhabitat: Can you tell us about the house you grew up in?

Tom Kundig: It was a 1918 classic two-story bungalow with a porch facing the street. However, it was its location near a large city port that had more affect on my childhood than the house itself. Spending my formative years in and around the lake cabins of the areas probably had the most impact on my career.

Inhabitat: Who inspires you?

Tom Kundig: So many architects, both living and dead, inspire me. It’s difficult to list. But certainly individuals within the architectural, art and music realm are the most inspirational. And when I speak of artists, what I’m focusing in on are those willing to truly put their souls on the line for their art.  They are working ‘out there’, many times without a net, vulnerable to the second guessing of polite society, bureaucrats, academics, and mainstream media – it’s a lonely place to be.

Inhabitat: What is your ultimate goal when it comes to your work? What do you want to be remembered for?

Tom Kundig: I hope that my work is meaningful and it that it resonates in people’s lives – architecture at its core.

+ Olson Kundig Architects


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  1. aidenwright March 14, 2011 at 5:40 am

    I don’t like the sideboard in that dining room that much… I would go with something more with the likes of D. Manuel from Boca do Lobo.

    Nevetheless the rest is awesomwe!

  2. aidenwright March 14, 2011 at 5:35 am

    I don’t like the sideboard that much

  3. CraigSchiller March 13, 2011 at 8:33 pm

    I have a comment and question for the Architect. As a Masters student in Sustainable Design, I have studied high performance and sustainable structures. I noticed the support for the hut’s roof is an I-beam that goes directly through the living space. Why would such thermal bridging be included in a structure used in a heating dominated climate? This seems to be an oversight that would drastically reduce the performance and comfort of these huts.

  4. giovanni guccini March 13, 2011 at 8:35 am

    I really like this architect.

    He is the poetry of detail. Look at the openings of the mechanisms of Chicken Point Cabin.

    I’d like to work for him and with him

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