Design Challenges: Jim Olson Offers Expert Advice

Jim Olson has spent a lifetime refining his skills. He genuinely enjoys learning about people and other cultures. He is a good listener and he is extremely committed to creating the best work possible. He knows it takes a lot of perseverance and tenacity to achieve it, and he loves what he does. Mr. Olson is optimistic, and he feels that with effort and collaboration we can do almost anything. He thinks about the future a lot, he believes that imagining what might happen helps to inform what can happen. In his opinion, living a healthy lifestyle enables him to put his full energies into what he does. For those who wonder, these are the qualities that make him a successful architect.

Architect Jim Olson is the founding partner of Seattle-based Olson Kundig Architects. He is noted for his explorations of the aesthetic interplay of art, nature and architecture, and the relationship between light and space for over forty years. Published worldwide, his work is also the focus of three monographs: Jim Olson Houses; Art + Architecture: The Ebsworth Collection and Residence; and most recently, Jim Olson: Art in Architecture. Though best known for houses, often for art collectors, Olson has designed museums, religious spaces and commercial buildings. His current work can be found on three continents, and in addition to residences includes a botanical garden visitor center, an art museum, and the JW Marriott Puerto Los Cabos. In terms of residential design in particular (especially among art collectors), Jim is world class. He is sought out for his work by clients across the globe. He is probably best described as the connoisseur’s architect of choice.

Simplicity at its best, Jim Olson’s architecture is elegant and beautiful, and is his idea that buildings can serve as a bridge between nature, culture and people, and that inspiring surroundings have a positive effect on people’s lives, why we talked to him hoping his expertise inspires YOU.

What is your observation about how best to build or choose buildings that can serve as a bridge between nature, culture and people here in Los Cabos, and what are the challenges of such design?

First we look at the climate and the landscape. How does the sun and the wind and the ocean air affect life in Los Cabos? What local building traditions have stood the test of time? What local building materials are the most durable? What materials fit into the environment best? What plant materials thrive best in this environment? What are the most important reasons that people have made their homes in Los Cabos? What is the spirit and background of the local culture? Why do visitors come to Los Cabos? If we answer all these questions and create buildings and environments that put them all together in a respectful way we will create a place that, with integrity, brings people, culture and nature together.

Describe the positive effects that inspiring surrounds have on people’s lives, as you have experienced it.

People who eat healthy food, get plenty of exercise and have a balanced, positive outlook on life tend to flourish and lead happier lives. Our environment is really our extension of our bodies and minds. Harmony and beauty make us feel uplifted and positive. We humans are creatures of nature. We are enriched by being close to nature, sunlight, views and vistas, plants and birds, and so on. We are naturally inspired by tall mountains, vast oceans and beautiful sunsets. Architecture designed to help us focus our attention on these things inspires us and makes us feel a true love of life.

What is your opinion about Sacred Geometry?

I have great respect for classical proportions, including the golden section. These proportions are generally based on the ideal human figure. You can find these same proportions throughout nature. I don’t know why, but people are intuitively attracted to these proportions and they help to define how we perceive beauty.

How would you answer a 10 year old who does not know who you are, when he asks you this question: Who are you and how would you like to be remembered?

I have spent my entire life searching for beauty in the world. When I find it, I try to frame it with my architecture so that others will see the beauty too. I would like to be remembered as an architect who taught people to pause and appreciate the beauty that surrounds us every moment of our lives. I would like to be the architect who helped people see the world through the eyes of the artist within them.


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