In the Seattle office of architect Tom Kundig, a three-ton steel and glass "sky door" swings open, almost effortlessly, powered by the 40 pounds-per-square- inch pressure of the municipal water system. In his own home—the "Hot Rod House," remodeled on the site of a turn-of-the-20th-century house in the Queen Anne neighborhood of Seattle—Kundig has devised a system of pulleys and travels that deliver a single, flat screen TV to several different locations within the three story building. Only a worn section of wooden molding remains of the building's previous interior.
Despite the many contraptions (or "gizmos," as he calls them) incorporated in Kundig's designs, the architect says he works from an elemental perspective. His design for the new building for the Sun Valley Center for the Arts in Ketchum is both sturdy and whimsical, reflecting his philosophy: to balance the human inclinations toward both safety and exploration in architecture.
It seems that the venerable and creative SVCA found the right designer for its new home.
"This commission is about 'unfinished business,'" says Kundig. "It is about works in progress, because that really is the spirit of the Sun Valley Center for the Arts. In essence, that is the curator's role, to keep things changing. The Center wants people to move around the art, to touch it and to experience it."
Kundig, of Olson Sundberg Kundig Allen Architects, is the son of Swiss-trained architect Moritz Kundig, who immigrated to the United States following World War II. The junior Kundig follows the strict conditions of European modern architecture, adding what his friend and fellow architect Billie Tsien calls "elegant inventions." These interactive mechanical details include concrete cabinet doors rolling open on bronze wheels, lighting fixtures descending on pulleys and wires, and sophisticated mechanical devices, all of which open doors onto the landscape. "A lot of modern architecture is about control," syas Kundig. "I try to give some of that control back with mechanical details."
Perhaps because he is an alpinist and rock climber, Kundig always manages to flatter a building's natural surroundings. A residence he designed in northern Idaho features a six-ton window that swings open onto a lakeshore. The house, it seems, is really about the lake. The SVCA building will be about people and art, and how to bring the two together. "Tom knew that we needed a gathering place for the community," says SVGA Artistic Director Kristin Pool.
Founded in 1971, The Sun Valley Center for the Arts and Humanities was established on six acres along Trail Creek that had formerly housed dog kennels for Sun Valley Resort. When that property was developed as the campus for the Community School about 20 years ago, the SVCA relocated to a building on Fifth Street in Ketchum. The small exhibition space and offices there provided headquarters for what has since become a nationally accredited arts institution, serving 37,000 participants annually through school outreach, original exhibitions, performances, lectures and classes throughout Blaine County.
The center's visual arts, performing arts and education and humanities directors work in tandem with Pool to develop three or four multidisciplinary projects a year exploring timely themes and topics from multiple perspectives. Recent topics include biodiversity, Tibetan art and culture, corporate America and philanthropy, and Mexican immigration and labor.
Kundig's designs for the 22,000-square-foot weathered steel, concrete and wood facility at Fourth Street and Second Avenue will bring many of the SVCA's programs under one roof with three exhibition galleries, a 230-seat auditorium, a learning lounge and a resource center with computer workstations to access the Center's program archives.
Kundig is working from the age-old architectural concept of "prospect and refuge" in designing the building. "It goes back to when people lived in high cave shelters overlooking a horizon," he said. "The dark secure area of the cave is the refuge. The horizon below is where the critters are. People can leave the refuge to explore and return to it for safety."
Visitors will have the option of hiding away in secluded areas within the new building or exploring the SVCA's many offerings, including video, sculpture and fine arts exhibits. A public learning center will provide refuge amid the center's vast archives. From a terrace balcony on the second floor, patrons will see many of Ketchum's critters visiting the busy Ketchum Post Office across the street. People outside can look back through 16-foot-tall glass walls at the shifting and rotating walls of a grand exhibition gallery that will bring the work of renowned artists to the people of Sun Valley, as the Center has for the last 37 years.