How This Seattle Architecture Firm Is Designing For Resilience


Living room with floor-to-ceiling glass sliding door open to forest beyond and covered porch

As the realities of climate change become ever more pressing, architects in the region are responding in kind. The concept of resilient design—buildings created to withstand periods of hardship like earthquakes, wildfires or simply loss of power—has become increasingly important, but incorporating it in elegant and aesthetically pleasing ways remains a challenge. Internationally renowned Seattle-based firm Olson Kundig is uniquely positioned to discuss the topic, as their buildings around the world incorporate sustainable principles without compromising design excellence. Here, Director of Building Performance Vikram Sami and Principal Steve Grim share insight into the firm’s unique approach to designing with resilience in mind.

Why is resilient design important?

Vikram Sami: We design from the perspective that the buildings we create will last for a hundred years or more, passed down for generations. The ability to withstand natural disasters and extreme weather events is critical to long-lasting architecture.

What is Olson Kundig’s approach to resilient design?

VS: At the start of every project, we dig into five primary considerations that inform our design solutions: energy, water, materials, health and wellness, and site ecology. The idea of harnessing natural forces and passive design is a core element of our approach and inherently resilient. So, for example, if the power goes out because it’s hot and the grid is overloaded, the building can be naturally ventilated without mechanical conditioning. 

Can you give a recent example of this approach?

Steve Grim: Analog House in Truckee, California, celebrates its rugged, high desert site while also responding to the risk of wildfire. Besides being well-shaded with deep overhangs and incorporating passive ventilation for warmer months, we also included elements like concrete building walls, steel siding over Rockwool, fire-rated sheathing, tempered glazing and a basalt ballast layer on the roof to protect against fire. 

What did these fire mitigation strategies allow you to achieve design-wise?

SG: The meandering form of the plan was driven by the decision to save as many trees as possible, many of which are quite close to the structure. Analog House looks like it’s always been there, and the forest grew up around it.