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From Left: Jim Olson, Tom Kundig, Alan Maskin, Kristen Murray


'anthology' Bridging nature, culture, people.


t Seattle-based Olson Kundig Architects, nature sets the design course. Buildings, in the firm’s vernacular, are like bridges between nature, culture and people. The ideal took root in the late 1960s with founder Jim Olson, who often observes that “living close to nature is the greatest luxury.” Principal and partner Alan Maskin digs a little deeper in conjunction with the exhibition "Olson Kundig: Anthology" at KANEKO.

How will Olson Kundig showcase itself at the KANEKO? “Through an anthology, or a collection of work that spans many decades. This show is a chance for our firm to consider where we have been and where we might be headed. While there have been previous exhibitions focused specifically on the work of founding partners Jim Olson and Tom Kundig, this is the first exhibition that captures the collective efforts of Olson Kundig.” What’s the take-away? “There are aspects of the making of architecture that are universal to all design practices, but it’s those aspects that distinguish one firm from another that can be the most interesting. We hope that visitors will see aspects of our practice that relate to the language of modern architecture being produced in the world today, while also seeing the ways we work that are specific to our firm and the partners who lead most of the design projects.”


How is each Olson Kundig design the same but different? “It begins with the existing landscape or cityscape where a project will ‘live.’ The architecture that follows is a response to place; it becomes the spine that weaves the site, our clients’ needs and an approach to design that resolves the project down to the smallest detail. When appropriate, we like to provide new inventions in kinetic engineering that can open and close the building in interesting mechanical ways. We also like to design the interiors and furnishings so that all of the design aspects on the project can act as a totality. While these are philosophies that we share, the architectural form that each partner gives his or her work is different. Jim’s work is highly refined in its materiality and detailing, while Tom’s work is more raw and experimental. Kirsten Murray's work focuses on ways to bring people together in public spaces, while my work in the public realm looks different with every client and design task.” Your firm has a residential projectin Omaha's Fairacres neighborhood. How did the owners find you? Jim Olson did a house in Borrego Springs, Calif., in the 1970s, which this same Omaha couple purchased. They called and asked him to remodel it. He also worked with the clients on the interior of the house and helped them with their art collection. It was a great success, and we all really enjoyed working together. So when our clients decided to remodel their Omaha residence, they gave us a call again. Tell us about the design that’s evolving. The project is about transforming a typical house into a house that is designed to showcase art. Our clients are fond of Jun Kaneko’s work, so we found some key locations to highlight those pieces and create focal points for art, with the house serving as a backdrop. We are modernizing the house throughout, including the addition of lighting to help showcase the art. We also designed some custom furnishings and found furniture that will tie everything together into a unified expression. We added a skylight down the ridge of the house to bring natural daylight into what was a previously dark interior space. We opened the interior of the house to look into the backyard to visually merge the indoor and outdoor spaces.” Your firm is also helping Gallery 1510 in Omaha with an expansion. How did that project come about? The gallery opportunity came about because of our work on the (previously mentioned) Omaha house. For the design, we are taking cues from the architecture of the Old Market – simple steel awnings and a Corten steel corner – that will serve as a beacon along Leavenworth Street. The building will help mark the entrance to the arts district. The gallery will house traveling exhibits from the Museum of Nebraska Art (MONA) as well as other artist exhibitions.”

Inspired Living Omaha  

September/October 2014 issue of Omaha's leading home & lifestyle publication

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