The intertwined legacies of father-and-son architects Moritz and Tom Kundig, with the late, great Harold Balazs

Harold Balazs| young kwak photo
Harold Balazs| young kwak photo

Tom Kundig's Rimrock House is a synthesis of two significant influences on his life: his father, Moritz Kundig, and an early mentor, Harold Balazs.

Moritz trained at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, Switzerland, and emigrated to the United States, eventually bringing his European modernist architectural style to Spokane in the 1950s. Notable projects include the Unitarian Church and a South Hill rancher recently renovated by local HDG Architecture's Josh Hissong and featured in Dwell Magazine.

Moritz's career included numerous collaborations with other architects. He co-founded NAC Architecture, a nationally known firm with numerous local projects at Kootenai Health, WSU, Spokane Community College and Riverfront Park; the firm also led historic restorations at the Patsy Clark Mansion and the Bing Crosby Theater.

Moritz also collaborated with local artists, and especially Harold Balazs, who passed away in 2017 at age 89. Balazs produced a prodigious amount of artwork, from paintings, prints and drawings, to public works throughout the Northwest.

Balazs was best known for his pioneering enamels, liturgical (church-based) artwork, and commissions, like the fountain in Riverfront Park and the sculpture known as the Lantern featuring Balazs' oft-reproduced and popular hand-lettered logo admonishing us all to "transcend the bullshit."

Balazs' Mead Works studio was a wonderland of activity, including metal fabrication and concrete casting, but also Balazs' trademark assemblages that he made from found objects like old bits of wood and discarded metal. And that's where a young Tom Kundig worked for several summers, an experience that turned his mind towards pursuing architecture at the University of Washington.

Tom Kundig| James O'Mara photo
Tom Kundig| James O'Mara photo

Since joining the Seattle-based firm of Olson Sundberg in 1986 — now called Olson Kundig — Tom has designed projects the world over, many of them bearing the combined fingerprints of Moritz' modernity and Balazs' ingenuity and fascination with materials.

Tom has earned numerous American Institute of Architect awards including for an innovative cabin at Chicken Point on Hayden Lake, with a massive glass door that can be opened to the outside using a simple gear "gizmo" Tom designed. Other regional projects include two wine tasting rooms: at Winescape in Spokane, and at Charles Smith in Walla Walla.

On the Olson Kundig website, he describes his approach to design: "I try to redefine what it means for humans to be in a relationship with architecture. Buildings are never finished — materials continue to change, clients move windows and walls and shutters. Materials allowed to age naturally are the evidence of time; they display a sense of history and place. In that sense, they are authentic."

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