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photo of Urban Sanctuary
Photo: Mike Jensen

Urban Sanctuary

Seattle, Washington

Urban Sanctuary

Seattle, Washington

  • Design Principal

    Jim Olson

This two-story apartment, through multiple remodelings, has served as a laboratory for the architect to explore ideas about space, architecture, urban living, spirituality and the integration of art into everyday life. The design manipulates space through both physical and illusory means. Despite the close-at-hand city vistas, this relatively small, sparsely furnished space turns inward, balancing outward views with opportunities for internal reflection. Barriers between structural envelope, interior space and art dissolve. A 25-foot-tall light well links the two levels, and the ever-changing light effects are a constant reminder of the nature and importance of reflection and contemplation. Originally completed in 1987, it was most recently renovated in 2008.

Built-in art installations by Jeffrey Bishop, Nancy Mee, and Ann Gardner extend and enrich the architectural expression. An open staircase with a glass balustrade ascends to the upper level, passing a niche filled with contemporary art and antique artifacts that speak to each other in provocative ways. In 2008, Olson enlarged the kitchen and added a sitting area. After years of filtering the light from above through a prism, he increased the size of the opening at the top of the well and added a translucent wall to enhance the level of illumination throughout the apartment.

I see our environment as continuous and connected; everything affects everything else. Architecture should fit into its context in a way that makes a better whole. Climate, culture, landscape or cityscape, architecture, interiors, art… they are all one integrated environment. Jim Olson, FAIA




AIA Seattle Honor Awards, Honor Award



Kliczkowski, Guillermo Raul. “Cabaña Olson.” Casas Internacional No. 122, Casas Compactas. Buenos Aires: Kliczkowski Publisher, 2010, 50-55. Book.


Savage, Anna Joe. “Art At Home.” Seattle Magazine, Spring 2003, 11. Print.


Hathorn, Clay. “What’s Up Downtown.” Seattle Magazine, Aug. 1993,  44-47, 57. Print.


Krakauer, Jon. “James Olson: Melding Art and Architecture in an Urban Seattle Apartment.” Architectural Digest, Feb. 1990, 92-95. Print.


Mills, Dale Douglas. “High Above the Market.” The Seattle Times, 26 Oct. 1980, 40-45. Print.