Tom Kundig brings a refreshingly laid-back, aw-shucks, go-with-the-flow attitude to an industry that seems, on the whole, largely to lack that kind of demeanor. Architects tend to be a rather uptight, perfectionist breed. Not Kundig, an experimental, hands-on Seattle-based practitioner, who, though he appreciates details and makes incredibly immaculate, wondrously conceived designs, also has a fondness for the utilitarian, the everyday, the experimental, the imperfect. His elegant buildings, which range from headquarters to wineries to cabins in the woods, stand out for their balance of heft and lightness, material and form, nature and industry, and craft and tech wizardry.
Kundig’s background as a mountain climber no doubt has something to do with all of this: Climbing is inherently unpredictable, putting one at the mercy of the elements, often under extreme conditions. There are pragmatic tools that can be brought to both climbing and architecture, but in the end, as Kundig himself points out on this episode of Time Sensitive, it’s how one prepares for the journey—and then handles and responds to it in the moment—that ultimately results in a successful climb or construction. For him, both are adventures in problem-solving and intimate conversations with the natural world. A native of the Pacific Northwest, Kundig grew up in eastern Washington, northern Idaho, and Southern British Columbia, and it shows in both his work and his personality. Not only because that region is where a bulk of the projects of his firm, Olson Kundig, are located, but because he brings a poetic sensibility and astute understanding of climate and nature to everything he does.
On this episode, Kundig’s open-minded, wabi-sabi energy rings loud and clear. He discusses with Spencer his early years as a climber; his incredible ascent in architecture, starting with an opportunity to work in Alaska; his profound learnings from his mentor, the sculptor Harold Balazs; and his deep passions for, among other things, wine, Japanese design, and hot rods.