An owner and design principal of Seattle-based Olson Kundig Architects, Tom Kundig quickly built a reputation as an innovator in residential design in the 1990s, a reputation that continues well into today. He’s since diversified his body of work to include cultural, hospitality, and commercial projects, all of which share an industrial aesthetic and, a signature of sorts, custom functional components such as interactive contraptions that Kundig created with the firm’s resident “gizmologist” Phil Turner. Ranging from hand cranks to pedals and gears, these are made to have purpose but also act as tactile elements that connect the user to the architecture — and provoke emotion. Consider the turning of a wheel in his Chicken Point Cabin to open an entire window wall.
Olson Kundig’s Chicken Point Cabin in Idaho features a hand-cranked wheel (that even a child can operate) that opens an entire window wall.
One cannot contemplate the emotional connection Kundig’s tactile designs are capable of bringing about without considering his “Final Turn” funerary urn. “Greg Lundgren — Seattle artist and owner of Lundgren Monuments — began to realize that memorials, urns in particular, were not designed with the quality and attention they should receive. He approached us with the possibility of collaborating on an urn that would defy the norm. We loved the idea.”
“Final Turn,” photo by Kevin Scott
Designed three years ago, this striking sculptural piece is a brushed or oil-rubbed steel sphere comprising two halves that are slightly misaligned. “The sphere is a shape that has come to imply perfection and eternity. The offset of the sphere’s two halves reflects people whose lives are thrown off-kilter by the passing of a loved one. The perfect world is no longer perfect for those who remain — something is amiss," explains Kundig. The halves screw open to reveal compartments, one for remains and the other for small mementos.
The architect with just a sampling of his collection
At about the same point in Kundig's career, local foundry 12th Avenue Iron tapped the architect to design its first commercial product line. Moving from custom, meant-to-be-handled building gizmos to door hardware would seem a natural progression for him, after all. His eponymous collection, which has expanded every year since its launch in 2012, consists of cut-and-folded steel pulls for cabinets and drawers; various door components such as levers, knockers, knobs, and escutcheons; but also clean-lined tables with open storage. “The best furniture is sensible and beautiful, not indulgent or overreaching,” he says.
From left: Black Table, B. Wood door pull, and Ear cabinet pulls from the Tom Kundig Collection
For 2015, he adapted his popular door pull, B. Wood, the minimal, vertical pipe that juxtaposes warm wood with edgy blackened steel. “We’ve used and liked the visual qualities of resin, so we decided to try a version of the B. Wood handle using resin in place of the wood,” says the architect. Dubbed B. Clear, this new version has a grip of hand-poured cast resin in a “root beer” hue, while the metallic portion can be specified in blackened steel, stainless steel with satin bead-blasted finish, oil-rubbed bronze, or powder-coated steel in satin black, gloss red, or gloss white. “The B. Clear is an example of how the evolution of a design can happen when you consider a material that’s interesting.”
Also added to the mix this year were fireplace accessories — which include a shovel, poker, and complementing stand — and a light pendant that comes with a smooth or perforated cylinder diffuser. “The light fixture was a natural extension to the line, an example incorporating the use of steel pipe as we had used in the door hardware.” Each pendant takes LED MR16 lamping (included) and measures 2-3/8 inches in diameter by 25 inches high.
From left: B. Clear pull with a resin finish and a perforated pendant were among new additions to the Kundig collection for 2015.
When probed about what other architect's product designs are favorites, Kundig answers, “Furniture in general, and by a number of architects, both historical and current. It’s too hard to pick a favorite.”