olson kundig architects

The 2011 residential architect Design Awards jury lauded this Seattle live/work loft project as a prototype for the future. “It’s an agenda for the next decade,” said one judge. “You could see it happening in a variety of neighborhoods and cities.”

Designed by Tom Kundig, FAIA, of Olson Kundig Architects, the seven-story building features ground-level retail space, second-floor parking, and five stacked residential units. Kundig and the developer opted to leave the units’ interiors as raw space, with the thought that each owner would customize his residence to his own tastes. “Everybody has their idiosyncrasies,” explains Kundig, who appreciated his client’s willingness to try a new approach. “We left an empty slate to do the floor plan as you see fit.” Exterior detailing of oxidized mild steel creates a link to the surrounding mixed-use neighborhood, while oversized operable windows on the front façade relate the units to the street below.

Kundig is known for designing custom-made “gizmos”—hand-operated mechanical devices that move parts of his buildings—and he’s included one in Art Stable. “It treats the architecture as something that’s potentially kinetic,” one judge noted. At the rear of each unit, on the alley side, a large door opens up by means of an interior hand wheel and a 80.5-foot-tall hinge connected to a rooftop crane. Working artists and art collectors are the building’s target market, and these doors will enable them to hoist big pieces of artwork and furniture into and out of their homes. “These larger openings allow you to open the building to the natural world and to the larger cultural landscape,” Kundig says. “How often you open and close the building doesn’t matter; for most people, it’s the promise that you can do it that’s more important.”

Easy access to the outside world, he adds, helps high-density multifamily housing maintain a comfort level for its inhabitants. “We all come from huts and villages, historically,” he says. “Reality now is leading us into denser situations.” But there may be a middle point between single-family housing and high-rise apartment blocks. “I think our future may in fact be more about small buildings than large buildings.”

The judges agreed that finding sensitive ways to achieve density should be a top priority for residential architects. And they admired Art Stable’s combination of refinement and toughness. “It’s very intimate—just five units,” noted a juror. “It’s about the city, about a continuation of the street. It’s just done so nicely.”

Click here to see all 2011 rada winners.