In Omaha, an Exhibit Celebrates 50 Years of Olson Kundig

In Omaha, an Exhibit Celebrates 50 Years of Olson Kundig

By William Lamb
The celebrated Seattle architectural practice takes over a Nebraska gallery space for its first-ever retrospective.

Olson Kundig Architects of Seattle is mounting its first-ever retrospective, putting five decades of its designs on display in a gallery in Omaha, Nebraska, this fall.

Olson Kundig designed the Rolling Huts in Mazama, Washington, for a client who needed space to house visiting friends and family. The huts sit lightly on the site, a former RV campground in an alpine river valley. The huts are sited to capture views of the mountains and not one another.

The show, which runs through January 3 at the KANEKO gallery, gives visitors a behind-the-scenes look at the firm’s creative process while showcasing the artistic, historic, and cultural influences that have shaped its designs.

The firm designed Art Stable, an urban infill project in Seattle's rapidly developing South Lake Union neighborhood. The seven-story mixed-use building was erected on the site of a former horse stable.

Founded in 1966 by Jim Olson, Olson Kundig has evolved from a small architecture office working mostly in the Pacific Northwest into an international design firm. Its portfolio has grown to include museum, commercial, and academic buildings, as well as mixed-use projects and places of worship. Private residences, however, remain its primary stock in trade.

Olson Kundig refurbished this 1950s building as a flexible off-site exhibition space for SFMOMA's Project Los Altos in downtown Los Altos, California. The firm replaced the front facade with a double-height, floor-to-ceiling window wall that can be raised or lowered at the whim of the user.

The exhibition will highlight some of the firm’s longstanding traditions, notably its weekly all-office critiques. Every Thursday, employees gather in a conference room to update and solicit feedback from their colleagues on projects they are working on. The exhibition includes an interactive feature titled "What Would You Do?" that invites visitors to contribute thoughts and suggestions about a series of the firm’s projects.

This 1,000 square-foot weekend cabin in Mazama, Washington, is essentially a "steel box on stilts," according to the firm. The three-story structure, which includes a living room and kitchen, can be completely shuttered when the owner is away.

"Some aspects of making architecture are universal to all design practices," says Alan Maskin, a partner at Olson Kundig and the designer of the exhibition, "but those that distinguish us are more interesting."

The defining feature of this lakeside cabin in northern Idaho is a 30-by-20-foot window wall that opens the living area to the surrounding lake and forest. Concrete blocks, steel, and plywood make up the simple palette of materials.

The exhibition also includes large-scale photographs and scale models that provide a survey of the firm’s portfolio, supplemented by video interviews and footage as well as ephemera contributed by the firm’s staff members.

Designed in 1968 for a former U.S. ambassador to Iceland, the Earth House in Longbranch, Washington, was inspired by the sod-roof houses common in Reykjavik. The house, which was cut into a hillside, and pool were sited to capture views of Mount Rainier.

KANEKO is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday and 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday.

A view of the Olson Kundig retrospective exhibition at KANEKO in Omaha, Nebraska.


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