2009 Architecture Firm Award Goes to Olson Sundberg Kundig Allen
Summary: Olson Sundberg Kundig Allen Architects received the 2009 AIA Architecture Firm Award on December 4. The AIA Board of Directors voted to award the firm based on its 35 years of consistently excellent work, including its seamless blending of architecture, art, and craft; community involvement; attention to sustainable design; and nurturing of in-house talent.
2008 Architecture Firm Award Goes to Olson Sundberg Kundig Allen
AIA President Marshall Purnell, FAIA, notified firm principal Tom Kundig, FAIA, by telephone after the Board made its decision. “I’m sitting here, and I’m glad I’m sitting here. I’m kind of in shock. Thank you so much” Kundig said. “Whoo-hoo!”
The AIA Architecture Firm Award, given annually, is the highest honor the AIA bestows on an architecture firm and recognizes a practice that consistently has produced distinguished architecture for at least 10 years.
Partners Jim Olson, FAIA; Rick Sundberg, FAIA; Tom Kundig; and Scott Allen, AIA, all graduates of the University of Washington, are known for their hands-on project involvement; deliberate efforts to share their knowledge with firm members, students, interns, and clients; and intense collaboration with artists and crafters.
Earthy, contextual, urbane
The firm’s commitment to sustainable design finds its roots in the firm Olson founded in Seattle in 1971, which he based on two principles: buildings can serve as a bridge between nature and culture, and inspiring surroundings have a positive effect on people’s lives. Carrying that concept into the firm, the principals remain committed to a democratic and populist office culture. Firm members’ involvement in non-profit community organizations, Thursday-night all-office crits, and Monday-morning visiting lecturers in conjunction with all-office staff meetings are all examples of how Olson Sundberg Kundig Allen Architects have created a humanistic culture of collaboration and design.
Known primarily for their integration of Modern forms that blend artfully into remote, natural settings of the Pacific Northwest (as with their Delta Shelter, a woodland perch in the wilds of Washington State), the firm’s work is also adept at creating dynamic urban environments. One of Olson’s first projects was the Pike and Virginia Building in the Pike Place Market District in Seattle, perhaps the city’s most loved neighborhood.
Universal approach, regional application
“While they work throughout the United States, Olson Sundberg Kundig Allen’s architecture has very specific insights to the native Pacific Northwest, but their design approach is universal: to create architecture that celebrates its place and culture that honors the materials and craft of the area and that is an integral part of the landscape,” wrote Peter Bohlin, FAIA, of Bohlin Cywinski Jackson, in a recommendation letter.
The firm’s love of raw, natural materials recalls Alvar Aalto’s portfolio and is a consistent motif in their work, but it’s been developed as neither a literal homage nor a superficial preoccupation. In their new construction and renovation projects, Olson Sundberg Kundig Allen peel back and strip away layers of materiality to tell richly evocative stories of site context, history, and use. They relish getting their hands dirty with the physical work of material composition, and communicate this passion freely through the rich textures they manipulate: reclaimed wood, steel, concrete.
“Their residential work in particular reveals a fascination with craft and the material properties of architecture,” wrote Mark Robbins, dean of the Syracuse University School of Architecture in a recommendation letter. “Levers, racks, gears, out-sized hinges, and wall-size shutters improbably glide into place to frame sublime natural vistas. The dual American obsession of industry and nature are summed up immaculately in the smallest folly.”
Among more than 65 regional and national awards winners are:
- The Delta Shelter, Washington State, 2008 AIA National Honor Award
- The Brain, Seattle, 2004 AIA National Honor Award
- Chicken Point Cabin, Northern Idaho, 2003 AIA Northwest Region Honor Award
- Frye Art Museum, Seattle, 1997 AIA Seattle Honor Award
- Pike & Virginia Building, Seattle, 1979 AIA Seattle Honor Award.
The award will be presented at the American Architectural Foundation Accent on Architecture Gala in February in Washington, D.C. Previous recipients include KieranTimberlake (2008) Murphy/Jahn (2005), and Lake/Flato Architects (2004).