Olson Kundig is a collaborative global design practice whose work expands the context of built and natural landscapes.
The firm is led by 14 principal/owners who are supported by a team of over 250 in both Seattle and New York. Olson Kundig’s in-house Interiors Studio, founded in 2000, and Master Planning & Landscape Design Studio are integral parts of the firm’s practice, resulting in designs that foster a cohesive experience of the entire built environment.
Working with Artists and Craftspeople
Working with artists and craftspeople is integral at Olson Kundig. In some cases, the architecture becomes the vessel that supports specific art installations. In others, the architecture and art are formed together to create a seamless spatial experience. In nearly all of its projects, the firm works with craftspeople to fabricate specific elements that support the larger intent.
Frequently, evidence of a maker’s hand will remain explicit and embedded throughout a project; perhaps a steel worker’s grind marks will be visible on a metal rail, or the rough edges of a sawn wood piece will be left exposed. This valuing of craft has its origin in the firm’s deep roots the Pacific Northwest, and also in its understanding of buildings as collaborative efforts that involve not just the architect, but the contractor and the workers as well. The emphasis on craft is an outgrowth of Olson Kundig’s contextual approach to design, as working with artists and craftspeople local to our projects around the world helps the work tell an authentic story of its place.
At Olson Kundig, we believe that world-class design and building performance are intrinsically connected. Our humanistic approach to sustainable design acknowledges that performance is driven by people, place and program. By blurring the boundaries between inside and outside, our buildings connect people to nature, leading to healthy and productive environments where individuals are engaged in their surroundings. Our architecture reminds people that they are deeply intertwined with the environment, even when they are inside.
Our design teams approach building performance with an intuitive sensibility, employing advanced software tools to test and challenge this intuition. We use a wide variety of analytical tools at various stages of the design process to understand a building’s energy use, thermal comfort, materials impact, natural ventilation, daylight management and a host of other performance considerations. Vikram Sami, our director of building performance, works closely with design teams to ensure that performance strategies inform the design process from a project’s inception. As a demonstration of our leadership within the building industry, we have joined the AIA 2030 Commitment and actively incorporate national sustainability standards including LEED®, WELL Building and Passivhaus into our designs.
My focus is not just on building performance, but on how design affects building performance. That’s why I believe that as designers, we have to lead with passive strategies every day.Vikram Sami, AIA, BEMP, LEED® AP
Olson Kundig’s Seattle studio is located in a 19th-century brick manufacturing building in the historic neighborhood of Seattle’s Pioneer Square. A central feature of the design is a fourteen-foot-by-twenty-five-foot counterweighted, hydro-powered skylight that caps the central atrium stair connecting all three floors. The skylight uses only city water pressure as an energy source to move building parts, allowing visitors to interact with and alter the space. The skylight provides natural ventilation and access to daylight, and serves as a focal point “art machine” and systems R&D investigation. Since taking residence in 2003, we have morphed and expanded our own footprint inside the building where our staff of 175 inhabits the top three floors.
Olson Kundig New York, opened in 2022, creates an East coast extension from which to nimbly support clients and projects, while fostering cultural exchange and design dialogue between New York and Seattle. The office is anchored by a signature gathering and event space known as the Living Room where an oversized, 144-square-foot table, designed by Tom Kundig and fabricated by Spearhead, evokes a table laden with candles or a conceptual cityscape rising from the landscape. Created from a tapestry of raw timber offcuts, representing both Olson Kundig projects and the work of other architects, the table introduces a physical embodiment of Pacific Northwest design culture within the new office space.
Opening a New York office space allows us to share a bit of the Pacific Rim and our ‘unstable edge’ mentality with the East Coast, forging new relationships and opportunities for collaboration. That influence goes both ways, of course – shared cultural events and firm culture creates a river that flows between the two cities, exchanging ideas and energy back and forth.Alan Maskin, Principal/Owner
Seattle has changed a lot in the 50 years that I have been practicing here. Many tech companies are now headquartered here, and Seattle has become a center, a hub, between the United States and Asia. We are excited to be doing projects all over the world, particularly in the U.S. and Asia.Jim Olson, FAIA, Principal/Founder
Thursday Night Crits
Every Thursday since the inception of the firm more than five decades ago, the entire staff turns off their computers, puts down their pencils, and convenes to discuss an ongoing project. “Thursday Crit” is more than just a weekly activity for us. It symbolizes the culture of design dialogue and experimentation that defines Olson Kundig. In working together, we seek to make every project in the office the best it can be.
While there is beer and food involved, the prime motivator is a design discussion. Sometimes 50 people will be giving one‑minute sketch presentations. The free flow of ideas consistently makes projects better, and opens up lively discussions about design and how we see the world. This forum is also a great way to connect with one another on a regular basis, and to celebrate individual and collective achievements.Alan Maskin, Principal/Owner
The fact that we’ve been holding weekly crits for over 50 years is amazing. Other firms attempt to have regular crits and it fizzles out. We’ve kept it going. I personally love to brainstorm in my own head, then bounce what I come up with against other people. People are free to say whatever they want. It’s invigorating—a highly generous flow of ideas.Jim Olson, FAIA, Principal/Owner
Reciprocal learning is a key tenet of Olson Kundig’s culture. In 1996, Kirsten Ring Murray and Alan Maskin co-founded the firm’s International Internship Program on this principle. The program provides six-month positions to students and recent architecture graduates from around the world, offering mentorship and experience on actual projects; in exchange, each intern presents to the office on a topic of their choice, enriching us with their knowledge and life experiences. To date, Olson Kundig has hosted interns from more than 30 countries around the world, and every state in the U.S.
The continual influx of talent and energy from around the globe through our internship program has been invaluable to our practice.Alan Maskin, Principal/Owner
Speaker Series & Monday Morning Meetings
Every Monday, Olson Kundig starts the week with an all-office meeting. Three times a month, the meeting is devoted to speaker presentations, often by outside guest speakers. The Olson Kundig Speaker Series was created by Alan Maskin over two decades ago with the goal of inspiring staff with presentations from people who work outside the realm of architecture. To date, more than 280 guests have come to speak in our offices. The forum is also available for internal speakers, who share completed project overviews, complex project details, and research findings, all with the aim of increasing our shared knowledge.
The Speaker Series is intended to inspire our staff by exposing them to people doing remarkable work in outside disciplines. Over the years, we have had presentations by local and internationally recognized artists, craftspeople, urban agriculture advocates, performers, oyster farmers, film directors, environmentalists, philanthropists, mathematicians, activists, fashion designers, bookmakers, scientists and even an exotic dancer.Alan Maskin, Principal/Owner
Olson Kundig defines research and development as “little r, big D,” meaning that our research efforts are focused on developing ideas into built projects. Realizing that compelling ideas often emerge from both within and outside the framework of the firm, artists, craftspeople, contractors and consultants are regularly invited to participate in design discussions. Our recently expanded shop and maker space provides resources for staff to build models, prototype ideas and test materials. OK Works regularly sponsors workshops and in-house design competitions.
My focus is not just on building performance, but on how design affects building performance. That’s why I believe that as designers, we have to lead with passive strategies every day.Vikram Sami, AIA, BEMP, LEED® AP, Director of Building Performance
Travel Fellowship & Creative Exchange
Since 2016, Olson Kundig has offered staff a Travel Fellowship program which funds one week of travel and research anywhere in the world. No topic is off limits, and the fellowship encourages staff to seek out and explore self-guided, personally meaningful research topics where the knowledge gained will benefit the firm’s larger practice. So far, staff have traveled to Italy to study the ruins of fascist Rome, England to study furniture making, Austria to learn traditional earthwork techniques, Namibia to photograph light and memory, Japan to study nothingness, and the Czech Republic to study a 13th-century bone church.
In 2016, Olson Kundig hosted our first Creative Exchange Resident, Robin Frohardt. Robin spent several weeks in our office where she developed elements of her installation and performance art. Throughout her residency, Robin offered opportunities for collaboration involving the entire firm, and her project was the subject of several Thursday Crits. Designed to foster dialogue and inject the firm with fresh creative energy, the Creative Exchange Residency Program provides artist residents with a monetary grant and dedicated workspace in our office to develop their work.
Community Involvement & Design Mentorship
Our traditions of design mentorship and hands-on fabrication extend to the youth in our community. We believe that introducing kids to design early on empowers them to actively shape the communities where they live. We have a longstanding mentorship partnership with Sawhorse Revolution, a local non-profit organization that teaches teens carpentry and design through inspiring community projects. We have also participated in design mentorship programs including Seattle Art Museum’s Design Your [Neighbor]Hood, the ACE Mentorship Program, Opportunity Skyway, and the Partnership for Youth program coordinated by the Frye Art Museum and the Associated Recreation Council at Yesler Community Center. Our staff also regularly serve on design juries and teach studios for architecture programs at local universities.
Social Equity Community
The Social Equity Community is a cohort of Olson Kundig staff supported by firm leadership working towards equity and justice in our workplace and surrounding community through education, reflection and action.
As part of our commitments to an equitable workplace and continued growth, Olson Kundig has committed to measuring ourselves against established external benchmarks that track both successes and areas for improvement:
- Just Label: The Just Label provides guided self-assessment in key social justice categories including diversity, equity, safety, community engagement and more. Evaluation results and transparency in reporting provides an ongoing catalyst for strengthening the firm’s social justice and equity initiatives.
- National Organization of Minority Architects Northwest: Olson Kundig joins NOMA NW in their vision for a unified, anti-racist design community. As part of our ongoing, long-term work on behalf of systemic and organizational change, we are proud to be a NOMA NW Gold Sponsor and have committed to the 2020 Call to Action Pledge.
Systemic inequalities that have historically existed in our society and our industry continue to persist today. We believe that inclusion of a diverse range of voices only strengthens our work, culture and community, and acknowledge the extreme urgency of combatting these prejudices.
Gender Inclusivity & Equality
Olson Kundig commits to actively embracing different individuals and gender identities; guarding against discrimination in our actions; and continuing to promote our vision for a diverse society with gender equality. This commitment applies to all aspects of our work and operations. It sets out our collective understandings and guides our policies for equity in representation, opportunity and compensation.
Black Lives Matter
Olson Kundig stands unequivocally against racism and anti-black sentiment. On behalf of our staff, community and industry, we remain committed to the work of combatting racism and discrimination of all kinds. We are committed to shaping a more just, inclusive and equitable future for everyone in our community and to fostering an internal culture where all staff feel seen, valued, heard and safe.
We Stand Against Asian Hate
Olson Kundig condemns all acts of racism against the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community and stands in solidarity with our AAPI colleagues, teammates, collaborators, clients and neighbors. We celebrate the many ways AAPI communities have shaped our nation, and we honor the deep influence Pacific Rim cultures have had on our profession.
In 2009, the American Institute of Architects recognized our firm with its National Architecture Firm Award, citing our hands-on project involvement; creation of inspiring buildings and places; deep commitment to share knowledge with students, interns, clients and community; and collaboration with artists and craftspeople.
Our owners have been honored with some of the nation’s highest design awards, including a National Design Award in Architecture Design from the Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum, an Academy Award in Architecture from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and inductions into Interior Design Magazine’s Hall of Fame.
The firm’s accolades also include American Architecture Awards from the Chicago Athenaeum and national and regional design awards from the American Institute of Architects and the International Interior Design Association. Olson Kundig has been named one of the Top Ten Most Innovative Companies in Architecture by Fast Company, and included on the AD100 list 14 times.
We are always looking for creative, talented individuals to join our team.