Book Review: Tom Kundig Works

Form Kundig coverTom Kundig Works (Princeton Architectural Press, $65) is the third PAP monograph on the Seattle-based architect, Tom Kundig. The first two focused exclusively on his houses; this one broadens to include commercial and cultural buildings. All are linked by a love of nature, mechanical ingenuity, light-filled volumes, and tough materials sensitively crafted. Kundig gew up in the wild west of Washington State, hiking and climbing mountains. That adventurous spirit carries over into everything he does, from a cabin in the wilderness to a polished Manhattan interior, a muscular extension to the Tacoma Art Museum, and a sleek office tower in Seoul. There is even an urn for the ashes of a deceased person—a steel sphere with two offset halves that is as precise and poetic as anything by Carlo Scarpa. Kundig describes it as “the smallest house I’ve ever designed.”

Ten of the 19 projects featured here are stand-alone houses, and each is to some degree a machine for living in. Kundig works with skilled artisans, notably Phil Turner, to create “gizmos”: meticulously engineered cogs and pulleys that open walls and skylights at the turn of a wheel. They complement the patinaed steel, scavenged wood and poured concrete structures, refining an industrial aesthetic to create a warm and welcoming environment. Richard Neutra described his houses as machines in a garden; Kundig takes that idea to a higher plane. He prefers analogue to digital and everything he does has a hand-made quality. For those of us who cannot afford one of his houses, he offers a collection of steel furniture and fixtures to add a sharp edge to the one we have.

Pilar Viladas—one of Kundig’s champions when she was design editor of The New York Times Magazine—contributes a perceptive introduction, but the architect proves himself to be as handy with words as he is with a beam. His descriptions bring each project alive and his conversations with collaborators and clients illuminate the creative process and the physical struggle to get everything right. The book is beautifully designed and produced: a match for its content, and a joy to browse. —Michael Webb

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