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portrait of Marlene Chen

Marlene Chen

Principal / Owner, COO | AIA, LEED AP

I find great joy in helping clients tell their stories through architecture. How can we bring that narrative to life in a way that reflects their brand, their identity and their vision?

Principal / Owner Marlene Chen is a natural translator. In her role as project manager at Olson Kundig, Marlene translates the complexities of the design and construction process to clients, while also communicating client needs and priorities back to design teams. Since joining the firm in 2005, Marlene has helped groups large and small express their missions in built form – from large organizations like the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Tillamook and Microsoft, to private residential and commercial clients. “I find great joy in helping clients tell their stories,” Marlene explains. “Expressing that narrative in a three-dimensional, experiential format is something our clients have often never done before. It’s my job to ask, how can we bring their story to life through architecture and exhibit design in a way that reflects their brand, their identity and their vision?” Equal parts listener and educator, Marlene helps clients feel empowered to make decisions and hone in on the best way to translate their values into built form. All the while, Marlene keeps the bigger picture in mind, balancing the concerns of budget, schedule, client needs and design goals.

Born and raised in Seattle, Marlene traveled to the east coast to attend Wellesley College and study at Columbia University’s “Shape of Two Cities: New York/Paris” program, which took her to Paris, France. Upon returning to Seattle to attend the University of Washington for her Master of Architecture, she traveled to Sydney, Australia for additional studies. Marlene notes that, while she used to prioritize visiting architectural monuments, in her more recent travels to places like Patagonia, she has gravitated towards inspiring landscapes and traveling to cities to understand the larger built context of a place by participating in its everyday life patterns.

As part of her internal leadership role at Olson Kundig, Marlene oversees staff development and steers the firm’s governance and operations group, working to develop the foundational professional practices of the firm itself. Outside the office, Marlene is active in Leadership Tomorrow, a Seattle civic engagement group. In all of her leadership roles, as in her design work, Marlene is committed to contributing to something greater than herself. As she puts it, “I’m drawn to Robert K. Greenleaf’s idea of servant leadership – being in service of the people you work for, but also being in service of the work itself.”

Associated Projects