Architects on the Leading Edge

Some are trying to give Seattle an exciting, distinctive flavor.

A close-up of one of the three Amazon "biospheres" in downtown Seattle. Image Credit: Alexander Crook. 

Seattle attracts talented architects, even more so as the region continues to enjoy an unprecedented construction boom. Yet it’s rare to come across the distinctive new development that is not only visually stunning but also manages to add something special to its urban environment

Seattle architecture critic Lawrence Cheek writes in The Seattle Times about the recent spate of high-rises: “Many slam arrogantly into the street with alien indifference toward the human life ambling about their bases.”  

There are plenty of reasons why so many buildings disappoint. With construction and land costs high, developers feel compelled to take advantage of every bit of air and ground space they can persuade planning officials to let them to occupy. In spite of those constraints, a few architects and their partners have found ways to develop projects that dazzle, leaving their corners of the city better than they were before.


Allyn Stellmacher, top right, with a close-up of The Wave in Pioneer Square, left. Lower right, clockwise from bottom, interior of the award-winning Federal Center South in Seattle; Finlandia Hall by Alvar Aalto; another view of The Wave.

1. Stellmacher on architecture
It presents the opportunity to create enduring cultural and civic value — to create places and experiences that bring a little joy into the world. 

2. Recent Project: The Wave at Stadium Place
It’s a dance between old and new worlds, a way to have a foot in both with no apologies. It’s of its own time and place. 

We searched for a path that would allow us to create a significant structure that could also thoughtfully rebalance the ragged seam between the Stadium District and the more delicate scale of Pioneer Square, one that exhibits both sensitivity and a steely brawn. The Wave’s reflective skin melts into the horizon — a counterpoint to the aggressiveness of the boxes.

3. Coming soon: The Mark office/hotel tower
It’s the embodiment of a concise integration of a diverse context within a singular project. It brings together the old, in the form of the [preserved church] sanctuary [adjacent], and the new, in terms of the [44-story] tower [at Fifth and Columbia]. It’s at once a steward of all that’s been good in this city and a steward of all that will be good in this city.

4. Most admired architect
[Finnish architect and designer] Alvar Aalto. His architecture transcends the circumstances it set out to solve with a generosity and spirit reflective of culture and place.

5. On Seattle
Seattle is a boomtown and there’s a lot of visual noise out there. I hope we can find a bit of calm and a degree of refinement in architecture that will result in gracious, authentic and commodious places for future generations. 



Mark Reddington, top left, with the Link light rail station at the University of Washington, right. Lower left, top to bottom, proposed addition to the Washington State Convention Center; Benaroya Hall in downtown Seattle. 

1. Reddington on architecture
It’s an opportunity to help make the future that requires understanding the big needs of community and culture and society as well as the specific needs of individual building users.

2. The ideal client
The ideal client is smart, ambitious and engages effectively in the creative process. They expect the architect to do great work. Having a sense of humor is also valuable.

3. Recent Project: UW Link light-rail station
The approach to the UW station is making connective systems that link multiple modes of transportation for the campus and the surrounding community in a way that enriches people’s experience of the city and campus. The collaboration with [artist] Leo Saul Berk in the creation of Subterraneum is an exciting feature that makes traveling through the station provocative and memorable.

4. Seattle design
We should not be pursuing a Seattle “architectural look.” We should be pursuing creative architecture that captures the quality of the Seattle experience — the climate, the quality of daylight, the connection to nature, the importance of material and craft and the culture of vibrant urbanism. We’ll make a better city by finding creative and idiosyncratic ways to engage those qualities and make the experience of Seattle unique.

5. Coming soon: Convention Center addition
It is a collage of multiple cool features. Each simultaneously performs as an individual experience, while also contributing to the greater collage to create an urban place. For example, the Pine Street hillclimb is a major set of stairs and adjacent seating platforms linking multiple levels in the building. It is parallel to Pine Street, with west-facing views down to Pike Place Market and Puget Sound.



Dale Alberda, top right, with the Amazon biospheres and office tower, left. Lower right, top to bottom, New Caledonia's Tjibaou Cultural Center by Renzo Piano; Seattle Opera at the Center.

1. Alberda on architecture 
Architecture challenges us with the opportunity to create harmony between art, utility and technology while reflecting on time and place and creating a lasting legacy. That isn’t easy; I love the challenge.

2. Recent Project: The Amazon “biosphere” buildings
We helped Amazon develop a vision for a unique workplace that breaks away from traditional office environments. We wanted to give employees the opportunity to think, work and collaborate while surrounded by unique amenities, including plants flooded with natural light.

3. Most admired architect
[Italian architect and engineer] Renzo Piano and his colleagues for their ability to consistently find bold solutions that are appropriate and well executed. 

4. NBBJ favorites
Several projects have transformed the way health care is delivered by enabling communities to deal with issues such as dignity, cultural sensitivity and healthy lifestyle, including the Palo Alto Medical Foundation campus in San Carlos, California. 

5. Seattle’s design signature
Seattle is growing up faster now than ever. In the past, a design “said Seattle” if it was a Northwest modern house in the woods, but we’ve moved well beyond that perception. Seattle was established with an adventurous and pioneering spirit. I hope that as we move forward, that spirit will be reflected in what we design and build here.

Coffee with Guppy: Seeking Authenticity with Tom Kundig

Coffee with Guppy: Seeking Authenticity with Tom Kundig

A chat with the celebrated Seattle architect.
Tom Kundig is a principal and owner at Olson Kundig, the Seattle architecture firm and design practice founded on the idea that “buildings can serve as a bridge between nature, culture and people.”
Nancy: What does an architect do? 
Tom: An architect solves problems. We observe what’s going on culturally, both historically and currently, and try to make buildings that resolve a situation, whatever it might be. 
Did you always want to be an architect? 
Oh, no. My dad’s an architect, I grew up with architects around me and there was a certain culture about architecture that I didn’t particularly appreciate, but what I did appreciate were the artists in that environment. Eventually, against all sanity, I wound up in architecture and couldn’t be happier. 
How important is the budget when you take on a project? 
It’s critical because a budget gives context and, from my perspective, the tighter the budget (within reason), the better the building because it makes you edit. When the budget is loose, the building can become overindulged. 
Are you a different designer now than you were when you started out? 
Oh, yes. I understand a lot more about the human condition and I understand the technical drivers much more completely. Architecture is a profession of wisdom, and it’s rare when you see that wisdom in a young architect.
Do you have a favorite building in Seattle? 
It’s a toss-up between the Pike & Virginia Building, designed by Olson Walker in the late ’70s/early ’80s, and St. Ignatius Chapel on the Seattle University campus. 
Is there a building you wish you had designed? 
Nope. There are so many conspiring forces to make mediocre buildings that when a good building happens, no matter who did it, we should just stand back and applaud! 
Tom Kundig says his main driver is "to make as much as I can out of life."
Are there signature elements of a Tom Kundig design? 
My desire is for an authenticity, both in cultural function and in the way that the natural materials — whether brick, steel or wood — age and get better with time. 
In every project you’ve done, is there always at least one thing that you hate? 
Uh, yeah, on virtually every project, but I never admit it! (Laughs) 
What gets you excited about a project? 
A client who’s curious about the world because that person is going to engage and ask questions in a way that may take me out of the way I typically answer.
What has to be there in order for you to take on a client?  
Trust. If you hire me, then I’ve got to trust you as a client and you’ve got to trust me as your architect, that I’m going to be doing my best work working for you.
Have you ever had to walk away from a project? 
Yeah. It’s difficult but it’s not about me. It’s about the situation. I’m not the right architect for you, you’re not the right client for me and we are wasting our time.
When do you know if something you’ve made is good? 
When I’m drawing and things are happening and fitting together, it’s like listening to music inside my head. It flows.
Is there a Tom Kundig Life Statement? 
I put a quote in my first book: “Only common things happen when common sense prevails.” I don’t know who came up with it, but it always makes me smile and it’s kind of true. If you’re looking for adventure, or something new or something worth living for, you’re looking for the edge, whatever that might be. 
How do you balance your creative mind with your business mind? 
I think a creative mind is a business mind because business is creative. You’re dealing with a set of issues and you’re trying to find a pathway, trying to resolve the issues, into a success. 
What piece of advice would you give to your younger self, when you were just starting out?  
Be more secure about your abilities and less insecure about your existence so that you can do things with a well-placed confidence. 
What song would you like played at your funeral? 
(Laughs) I don’t know! I won’t be hearing it so I don’t really care. 
You’re stuck on a desert island and can have one book, one record, one food and one person
My wife, Jeannie. Beethoven’s Ninth. A hamburger. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance
Who or what is your worst enemy? 
Noncritical thinking. People who don’t think about what they’re saying. 
Beatles or Rolling Stones?  
Beatles. I share a birthday with John Lennon and sympathy with his larger musical and political agendas.
What four guests would make for the perfect dinner party?
Kurt Vonnegut, Richard Feynman, Indira Gandhi, Muhammad Ali. 
Do you have a spiritual practice and if yes, how does that practice manifest? 
I was raised a Unitarian, so it is a very personal spiritual practice and certainly influenced by both Buddhist teachings and Jesuit friends. 
› For more on artists, entertainers and entrepreneurs, tune in Art Aone with Nancy Guppy on the Seattle Channel (