13 Projects by Olson Kundig Architects Embedded In Their Surroundings

Founded on the idea that architecture is closely related to nature and to people’s lifestyle, Olson Kundig is a studio famous for its inspiring projects spread across the globe. The practice is led by five owners and employs a holistic approach where all the aspects of a project or design are taken into consideration before a final picture starts to take shape. The most important characteristic of the studio’s numerous projects is the focus on the surroundings which are believed to have a positive effect on people’s lives.

The Shadowboxx

Every project completed by the architects offers a new and fresh take on the whole indoor-outdoor connection and the relationship between a structure and its surroundings. The Shadowboxx is an interesting example. Completed in 2009, the house sits on a remote site, on Lopez Island, in Washington, USA. The site is in fact a natural clearing, surrounded by trees.

The architects wanted to put an emphasis on the relationship between the house and its surrounded and they tried to minimize the boundaries between the indoor and outdoor. The way in which they managed to do that is both innovative and memorable. With the simple push of a button the roof of the house can be lifted, like a lid on a box. In addition to that, some of the walls can be opened to further highlight the seamless transition towards the outdoors. In a way, this makes the inhabitants feel like they’re camping outside when they’re in fact enjoying the comfort of their home.

The Chicken Point Cabin

You’d expect a cabin in the woods to be all small, cozy and closed off from its remote surroundings but why would it be that way when there’s so much beauty to take in? The Olson Kundig team chose a different approach when designing the Chicken Point Cabin. The structure is located in Idaho, USA and sits on  3400 square feet of space on a site close to a lake.

The cabin is small but this doesn’t stop it from being strongly linked to its surroundings. In fact, this relationship is the detail that defines it as a project. Although small, the cabin has a huge window which opens its entire living space to the forest and the lake, letting in natural light and panoramic views. In addition to this window, the architects also found another way to connect the cabin to the surrounding landscape. They did that by using simple and low-maintenance materials with natural finishes which let them gain a patina over time.

Mexico Residence

In 2010 the architects completed this holiday home in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. The owners use it as a seasonal vacation home and they wanted it to have plenty of room for entertaining guests but also a comfortable private zone where they and their guests can relax and unwind. Putting these two together wasn’t a major challenge. The architects organized the house into two volumes.

The downstairs area is an entertainment space which includes the social spaces such as the kitchen, living and dining rooms. Upstairs is the private zone where the bedrooms are situated. They can be closed off for more privacy and a quiet and relaxing ambiance. The location offered the architects the opportunity to open the house to its surroundings and to reveal stunning and unobstructed views of the sea and the rest of the landscape.

A seamless and strong connection is maintained between the indoor spaces and the numerous outdoor areas. The two zones are linked by sliding pocket doors and the decks and terraces have deep cantilevered overhangs which give them a particularly cozy and intimate feel.


Few houses have a relationship with their surroundings as strong as Pierre does. The name of the project is actually very suggestive in this case. Pierre means “stone” in french and that’s the main material used throughout the project. Set among rocks on San Jose Island in Washington, the house becomes part of the landscape by actually being set into a hill.

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All of the spaces are clustered on a single main level with the exception of a guest suite which is separate.The architects had to excavate rocks from the site in order to be able to set the house into its structure. The excavated rocks were then reused and made a part of the house’s design. This is a project that celebrates stone and its uniqueness. The house almost seems to disappear into nature when seen from certain angles and this becomes its main attribute, the element that makes it stand out. Ironically, the design is meant to make the house blend in.

The Art Stable

Now there’s a seven-story building on this case but before that the space was occupied by horse stables. The transformation took place in 2010 when Olson Kundig completed the Art Stable project. The new building they designed is located in Seattle, USA. It’s organized on seven levels and it combines two types of spaces. The idea behind the project was to offer people the opportunity to live and work in the city without separating the two things.

This live-work combo is characterized by a unique design pattern. The building features huge art doors that can be operated with a custom wheel and hinge system. It opens steel clad doors on all seven levels. The doors are 8 ft tall by 12 ft long. A second hinge is used when operating a set of 8 ft by 8 ft windows. This whole system was custom-designed for this project. The building combines simple materials such as concrete, steel and glass and it also has a sustainable character. It uses a geothermal heat pump, natural ventilation and it was also designed to accommodate solar panels in the future.

1111 E. Pike

Previous to the Art Stable project, in 2008, the architects completed a similar structure. The building is located in Seattle and it combines volumes with different functions on different levels. The ground floor is a retail space and on top of that there’s a series of five residential floors. The building also has two underground parking levels and a garden on the rooftop. This sort of multi-purpose design is unusual and demanding when it comes to finding a balanced and harmonious structure that can encompass all the required features in each particular case.

The Ocean House

Situated on Big Island in Hawaii, the Ocean House is a structure defined by an eclectic style resulted from mixing traditional Balinese elements inspired by palaces and temples and modern techniques and features. Together, they allow the house to naturally fit into its surroundings which is one of the main goals of this project by Olson Kundig architects.

There’s a river of hardened lava running through the site and the house itself is actually set of exposed lava. This definitely helps with the whole harmonious relationship between house and nature. The house also features other design elements which are meant to integrate it into the landscape. For example, it has broad overhangs which offer shade from the sun and protection for the sliding glass walls which minimize the visual barriers between the interior and exterior spaces.


In a lot of cases it’s the site that shapes the house and not the other way around. That’s especially true when there’s a desire to establish a close connection with the outdoors and to offer beautiful views. When designing the Studhorse, a second residence for its owners set in a glacial valley in Winthrop, Washington, the architects had to look for inspiration right there on site.

The location presented a particular set of challenges. For example, the climate here ranges from hot in the summers to very cold and full of snow in winters. This is a four-season landscape which the clients wanted to enjoy as much as possible. That’s why the house was organized into four volumes. They’re all distributed around a central courtyard and pool area. The clients wanted this to be their adventure house and to basically be forced to engage it.

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That’s why they chose the four-building structure which forced them to go outside whenever they want to move from one section of the house to another. The materials used throughout the project also reflect this desire to engage the surroundings. They house is tough and rugged on the outside and really cozy on the inside.

The Copine restaurant

The architects at Olson Kundig also know how to make a restaurant look great. In 2016 they designed the Copine restaurant located in the Ballard neighborhood of Seattle. The restaurant is designed around an open kitchen and puts the spotlight on the food, letting the guests actually see inside the kitchen. The space is mostly defined by openness and transparency.

Large windows let natural light in from three sides and introduce the restaurant into its neighborhood setting. In terms of interior design and furnishings, the interior is a mixture of old and new, featuring both contemporary and traditional furniture and putting together new and reclaimed materials. This gives the restaurant a unique charm and a lot of personality, making it memorable and enjoyable.

The Delta Shelter

No two projects are the same. Each comes with its own set of challenges and requirements and each one is special. For these architects, every project is also an opportunity to create something unique and amazing. That’s what they did when they built the Delta Shelter, a cabin set in Methow Valley, Washington. This is definitely not your usual cabin and you can tell that by the fact that it sits on stilts.

The cabin is basically a box on stilts. It was designed vertically in order to take advantage of everything the site has to offer. With a footprint of 200 square feet, the cabin features three levels, each with its own function. The lowest level is half carport and half storage room. The middle floor contains the entrance and two bedrooms with en-suite bathrooms and the upper level is a large and open space that combined the living, dining and cooking areas.

The cabin was built using simple and raw materials. Its exterior walls are made of steel and there’s something special about them. There are four shutters which can be opened and closed simultaneously and which close off the cabin completely when its owner is away. These shutters can be operated via a hand wheels which makes it all really fun.

The Glass Farmhouse

Looking at them from a distance, this house and the barn that sits next to it blend well with their surroundings, each in a different way. The Glass Farmhouse was built in 2007 and is located in Northeast Oregon, in an area with cold and snowy winters and dry, hot summers which make it difficult to come up with a design that responds to such drastic climatic changes. The desire of the architects was to make these two structure look like objects in the landscape.

The barn is made of wood and has a design inspired by the local constructions while the house is made mostly of glass and looks more modern. It’s basically a small glass box that rises above the fields. It’s oriented towards the distant mountains and this allows it to adapt well to the climate changes. In winter, it takes advantage of the passive solar heat and in the summer the roof overhangs protect it from the harsh sun. Large operable windows create a very close connection between the interior spaces and their surroundings.

The Slaughterhouse Beach House

This is a house situated on the island of Maui in Hawaii, close to a popular surfing spot. It was designed by Olson Kundig architects and it’s organized into three connected structures, each with a different function. One of the volumes is a social space that contains the living quarters. Another volume houses the guest suites and the third one contains the main sleeping area.



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