The son of a Spokane architect, Kundig had gone to the University of Washington resolved to stay away from architecture. He studied geophysics at first, and grew fascinated with natural forces. Now, he says, his interest in these “gizmos” is “just a natural outgrowth of my curiosity about forces and how things move. A door shouldn’t just be a door. Why do we have to take it at face value? Why can’t we reinvent a door? Or why can’t we move six tons of glass and steel? Have a six-year-old be able to move it?”
"When you’re inside," says Kundig, "you want to feel that the building would just be the frame or the background to your experience of the landscape."
He lovingly designs these things with a kind of “contraption” look that recalls old Rube Goldberg designs. The Chicken Point wall is controlled by a large, spoked, industrial-looking wheel with a knob on it. The Olson Sundberg skylight is controlled by a small wheel connected by a byzantine set of pipes to small water pumps, which are in turn connected to the skylight itself by more piping. The conceit is a sort of homage to good old American industrial engineering, which was often improvisational. “Growing up,” Kundig says, “I’d go to the old silver mines, and I worked in a sawmill, and I would see all these gizmos and all these things that moved and adjusted and changed. I don’t know if people just aren’t interested in [gizmos] anymore, or if they’ve forgotten them, but when you bring them into these places…everybody goes, ‘Whoa!’ They’re all excited.”
Yet the more attention his gizmos attract, the more Kundig fears they will attract too much. “I hope the gizmos don’t become fetishes,” he says, “where I become known as ‘the Gizmo Guy.’ I mean, if the gizmos are important, that’s great, but God help me, I hope the gizmos are for real. A way to make a space interesting, making it work in a way that hasn’t been done before…. It should not be a gimmick. In the true sort of modern sense, those things should be absolutely seamlessly an outgrowth of what the idea of a place is.”
He tends to view the architect of a home as less an artist than a facilitator who brings together all the elements of a locale and gives them unifi ed expression in a building. “I think these places have diff erent looks and feelings to them, because it’s not just the client, it’s the local culture, the local weather; it’s the local structural material, systems, the local craft base—all of these things inform architecture.”