Modest spectacle: Tom Kundig presents a new monograph of Works

Modest spectacle: Tom Kundig presents a new monograph of Works

Tom Kundig’s architecture combines an extraordinary attention to detail with a richly patinated palette of materials. The Seattle-based architect works in partnership with Jim Olson, although both designers tend to have their own independent projects (and monographs). Works is the latest tome on Kundig’s quietly prolific output, a portfolio of relatively modest but undeniably spectacular homes that exploit the topography, views and atmosphere of their sites down to every last detail.

The book features 19 projects from around the world, although the majority are residences in the US. These include the spectacular Studhorse retreat in Washington and a grand six-storey New York townhouse. In almost every project, there’s not only a relish for the texture and surface of tough, unadorned materials like wood, steel, concrete and iron, but also a love of kineticism, machinery and the monumental.

Kundig – and his collaborators and specialists – create a modern aesthetic that doesn’t rely on seamlessly hidden sources of power or mystical minimalism. Instead, pulleys heave, handles turn and gears interlock, creating houses and cabins with vast opening windows, enveloping shutter systems and transformable facades. These mechanical preoccupations provide the thread of unity, whether the project is a major new art gallery or a tiny fishing cabin in Washington State, designed to function in as straightforward and pragmatic a way as possible.

Kundig’s work is now much in demand. The book is filled with design sketches and personal recollections but still can’t quite convey the enormity and complexity of some of these works – and the sheer effort that has gone into making them appear so effortless. Many contemporary architects profess a strong connection to site regardless of their aesthetic preoccupations. However, few have made such a convincing case of how to be uncompromising as Kundig.

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