A Unique Frame of Mind

Architect Tom Kundig thinks outside the box to reinvent the notion of “home”

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Architect Tom Kundig thinks outside the box. In fact, he’s been known to take a box, put it on stilts, add wheels and raise its roof—all in the name of reinventing the notion of "home."

Kundig, a 2008 Cooper-Hewitt National Design Award winner and partner in the Seattle-based firm Olson Sundberg Kundig Allen Architects, is known for designing sparse houses with understated materials—steel, glass, concrete and plywood—and overstated shapes and features. They are conversation pieces that whet the imagination.

Take, for example, the 1,000-square-foot, three-story cabin called "Delta Shelter" that was built in Mazama, Washington. It looks like a modern tree fort. Or perhaps a chimney—maybe even a periscope—sprouting from the earth. I mean, Mark Robbins, a juror in the National Design Award competition and dean of the Syracuse University School of Architecture, did refer to a similar work of Kundig’s as representing the "dual American obsessions of industry and nature."

Other works look like robotic creatures. His four-legged "Rolling Huts" (photo at top), built on the same Washington property as "Delta Shelter," have been called the "baby chicks of Mother Delta." (There is some family resemblance.) Kundig himself calls the six upscale campers, which are fed electricity from RV hookups, a "herd."

And signature to Kundig’s homes are his gizmos. As a kid, I had a make-shift pulley to reel in the rope ladder on my tree house. Kundig’s "Delta Shelter," has a snazzy hand crack to gently slide the steel shutters closed. A house he designed in Northern Idaho has a 30-by-20-foot window that tilts with the turn of a wheel, opening the main living space up to its lakefront, and another in Seattle boasts a flat screen TV rigged by a pulley to hang from the ceiling.

See more of his wild designs, here. Kundig and the eight other National Design Award winners will take part in a panel discussion on design and be honored at a gala at the Cooper-Hewitt in October.

(Photograph of Rolling Huts, Mazama, Washington, 2008, courtesy of Tim Bies/Olson Sundberg Kundig Allen Architects. Photograph of Delta Shelter, Mazama, Washington, 2005, courtesy of Benjamin Benschneider.)

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