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.