Tom Kundig building for people and place | The Plan
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Tom Kundig building for people and place

Tom Kundig

Tom Kundig grew up in the Big Sky country of Washington State, far removed in distance and character from Seattle where he and his partners at Olson Kundig Architects now practice. He loved that landscape and is still, at age 57, an avid rock climber and downhill skier. As a youth he worked in a sawmill, hung out with a sculptor who taught him to make things, and transformed old cars into hot-rods. Those formative experiences, of the earth and machines, infuse the houses and cabins he has built on the lakes and islands around Seattle, and in the wild terrain of the northwestern United States. Raw and idiosyncratic, they move far beyond the classic modern dwellings that his father, a Swiss architect, designed. “They had big windows that pulled in views but couldn’t be opened,” he recalls. “I felt I was in an aquarium. All my architecture has a consistent attitude: I want to go outside. And when I’m inside, I want to be as snug as I am in a sleeping bag.” For Kundig, a house is a portrait that captures the spirit of the owner and place, but also incorporates a lot of the architect’s passions. As a result, there is no signature style, but rather a set of recurring themes that are carefully balanced. Houses hug the ground or float above it. Steel and concrete are employed expressively, their mass playing off the lightness and transparency of glass. Shadowy interiors open up to nature, and the pivoting doors and windows are hand-controlled by elaborate mechanisms. At their best, these locks and pulleys, hand-forged by a former Ferrari mechanic, achieve the status of art works. All of these elements are combined to achieve a poetic response to the site and the experience of inhabiting it. The Pierre is named for a massive rock that suggested a primitive shelter. The client wanted to feel protected, and that inspired a concrete mass that burrows into the earth and has a landscaped roof. The rock was partially excavated and employed as a quarry for the aggregate and...

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