Meet Tom Kundig's literary inspiration

Book City: The iconic Seattle architect on the books and the authors that inform, inspire and shape his work.
Tom Kundig

Tom Kundig Photo: Richard Darbonne

Tom Kundig, principal and owner of Seattle-based Olson Kundig Architects, is a global star. While he lives on Queen Anne, he is working on projects in Asia, South America, Australia and Europe, as well as here in the Northwest. Kundig has won multiple design awards for his raw modernist aesthetic, landscape-inspired design and hand-cranked mechanisms. His books, “Tom Kundig Houses” and "Tom Kundig: Houses 2,” are Princeton Architectural Press’s bestselling architecture books of all time.

Have you read a truly great book lately?

I enjoyed “Thinking in Numbers: How Maths Illuminates Our Lives,” by Daniel Tammet.

Do you read mostly fiction or non-fiction?

Probably an even split between the two. I read the work of Cormac McCarthy, and books on natural sciences.

Favorite authors in the natural sciences?

Stephen Hawking and Richard Feynman. They are both clear-headed writers using accessible narrative and examples that makes sense of complicated science.

Can you recommend a book to help us appreciate the city around us? Get a fresh perspective on design?

“The Eyes of the Skin: Architecture and the Senses,” by Juhani Pallasmaa is fantastic. He talks about architecture in an unexpected way…about how it engages all of your senses.

 Are there design/architecture magazines and/or blogs you read regularly?

I don’t read design or architecture magazines very often, and rarely read blogs — I don’t have much time to keep track of what’s going on, and I prefer to keep my design vision fresh. I do read a lot of newspapers, culture and science magazines: The Financial Times, New York Times, Globe and Mail, New Yorker, Smithsonian, Nature, Scientific American — they keep me up to date with the world at large.

Do you have a favorite public building or two you’d suggest we all take a good look at?

Two of my favorite buildings are here in Seattle…the Chapel of St. Ignatius at Seattle University and St. Mark’s Cathedral. Both are meaningful spaces that resonate with people at their core.

Can you name a childhood favorite that influenced you?

I read “The Wisdom of Insecurity,” by Alan Watts when I was about 16. That book had a profound influence on my life. It gave me confidence to embrace the unknown and to accept not knowing what was next and to not be intimidated by it.

Have you read a well-reviewed or popular book lately that was a disappointment?

I was looking forward to reading “Shop Class to Soulcraft,” by Matthew B. Crawford, but I just couldn’t get into it.

Any recent book that caught your imagination, inspired you, or changed how you look at the world?

Not lately. Some of my favorite books are “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” by Ken Kesey, “A River Runs Through It,” by Norman Maclean, ”Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance,” by Robert M. Pirsig and “In Praise of Shadows,” by Jun’Ichiro Tanizaki.        

Do you include bookshelves in the houses you design?

I can’t think of a house I’ve designed that doesn’t include bookshelves or a space for reading. It could be a quiet alcove or an eddy off of a larger space. A house I designed in Portland includes a library that runs the length of a one-hundred-foot-long hallway.     

What book do you plan to read next?

I’m looking…any suggestions?

What Val’s Reading This Week: “Why Be Happy When You Can Be Normal?” For more than three quarters of Jeanette Winterson's latest memoir, her humor and brilliant writing illuminate her bleak personal history. The last bit, written in real time as she searches for and finds her birth mother, is a jarring, unfocused exploration of an open wound that found me turning back to the beginning of the book again in search of some perspective from her initial clear prose. Winterson writes of the vital role books played, both in her survival of a Pentecostal household, where non-biblical books were forbidden, and in earning a degree from Oxford. “A book is a door,” she says.“You open it. You step through.”

Valerie Easton started her career as a librarian shelving books at Lake City Library when she was in high school. Now she writes full time, and has authored five books, including The New Low Maintenance Garden and her newest title Petal & Twig. She writes a weekly column and feature stories for Pacific Northwest magazine in the Seattle Times.


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