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Architect Tom Kundig

by Brian Fichtner in Culture on 11 November 2008

Montecito_Residence.jpg

The winner of the Architecture Design category for Cooper-Hewitt's 2008 National Design Awards, at 54 Tom Kundig maintains a youthful sense of wonder at the path his career has taken. He refers to his recent string of successes as something like riding a wave, while citing the inimitable power of the internet to create fluid connections. Indeed, while the Seattle-based firm in which he is partner, Olsen Sundberg Kundig Allen Architects (OKSA), maintains a surprisingly polished website, the viral, word-of-mouth power of blogs and online media have aided in this crescendo, bringing him new clients from around the world.

Alluding to nature comes readily to Kundig, who grew up in the high desert of Idaho and Washington and spent his formative years, as have many Pacific Northwesterners, connected to his surroundings through activities such as mountaineering and rock climbing. In contrast to the East Coast's more formalistic mentality of architecture, his designs are rooted in the culture of landscape: "Perhaps because of my upbringing, I have more of an elemental feel for material and details… My buildings are intended to age and move and weather." Perhaps like no other Kundig project, the Montecito Residence (top images, courtesy Tim Bies) follows these very tenets. Like a bird of prey readying to take flight through the valley below, the house sits perched on the hillside, its oxidized steel panels and toned concrete slabs meant to become part of the very landscape.

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Movement remains central to Kundig's most recognized residential projects. Early exposure to mining, logging, and farming industries instilled a fascination with machinery that has influenced many of his architectural solutions. A commission for a remote cabin in eastern Washington called for a retreat that could adapt to the owner's presence; opening up when in use, sealing off during inclement weather or periods of disuse. The finished structure, named the Delta Shelter (right, courtesy Benjamin Benschneider), is an exquisite box featuring steel shutters that roll on a hand driven mechanical system.

Kundig likens these kinetic apparatuses, which have taken the nickname "gizmos," to inventions of necessity "that oddly put us back in touch with the nature of natural forces." It's an interesting turn of the phrase natural forces of nature, but the distinction is apt, coming from a man who once spent years defying gravity. These gizmos are so prevalent in Kundig's work that OSKA recently released a video, "Prototypes and Moving Parts," that features many of them in motion (see below).

What keeps the Mr. Kundig so happily busy? "It's unending, the source of inspiration," he says, "The idea is to harvest the ideas whenever they're happening. Because the older you get, the deeper the 'bags of tools' that you have to work with." A fitting metaphor for an architect so committed to the process of building.

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