Close this search box.
Jim Olson, Olson Kundig, Hawaii, Anne Gunderson, architecture,

Architect Jim Olson of Olson Kundig is Inspired by Art & Nature

A unique approach guided the design of this 13,000-square-foot oceanside property—with an infinity pool running along its central axis—that belongs to a couple from California.



On the Big Island of Hawaii, an art-filled house anchored by a river of hardened lava connects to surrounding mountains and sea

“I’ve spent my career incorporating art into my architecture,” says Jim Olson, principal and owner of Seattle-based firm Olson Kundig with Tom Kundig. “I often design for art collectors, and I try to let the sensibility of their collection lead me to an appropriate architectural expression.” 

Having traveled in Asia for years, the owners have collected many Burmese, Khmer and Thai artifacts as well as modern art pieces from the region.

To help Jim Olson understand their taste and vision for the Big Island home, the clients sent the architect a series of images that inspired them, including references to the work of Luis Barragán, Frank Lloyd Wright and the Jim Thompson House in Bangkok—which is now a museum—among others. Before starting the project, Jim Olson felt the need to travel to Hawaii as well as to Bali, where traditional palaces and temples would be the starting point of his design. 

Standing on a promontory of exposed lava, the house has broad overhangs, which protect interior spaces from the strong sun, and sliding window walls that provide natural ventilation while permanently connecting inside and outside.

“Architecture should fit into its context in a way that makes a better whole,” explains Jim Olson.

Both tropical and contemporary, the house features three pavilions: one central, open living area with two private wings (the master suite on one side and guest rooms on the other), all connected through external walkways and internal stone corridors. Lasting materials—including stone, teak, bronze, steel and copper—were chosen for their simple beauty and elegance, as well as their resistance to harsh coastal weather.

“Our homes and cities are as much a part of nature as birds’ nests and beehives,” Jim Olson says. “Our role as architects is to fit human life into the world in an intelligent and meaningful way.” 

Furnished and decorated by interior designer Anne Gunderson, the home emphasizes the owners’ extensive art collection. The Asian theme pervades the peaceful atmosphere, with neutral tones enhancing the bright color of the natural surroundings that one admires via glass windows throughout.

The entire composition is a manifestation of Jim Olson’s broader thoughts: “Architecture,” he says, “not only provides shelter but also enhances the human experience. It creates pleasure, provides meaning, and inspires. Buildings are an extension of our dreams and aspirations, being both about and for us.”

Jim Olson of Olson Kundig |

Photographs: courtesy of Paul Warchol


Broad Beach Beauty: 31558 Victoria Point, Malibu

Nestled within a gated Malibu community, 31558 Victoria Point epitomizes luxurious beachside living with sweeping ocean vistas. This 4,200 sq ft residence, meticulously redesigned by Busch Design Build, blends indoor and outdoor spaces seamlessly. The 4-bedroom, 4.5-bath home features opulent materials like onyx countertops and custom tile flooring, complemented by eco-friendly amenities such as solar panels and a fresh-air system.
  • June 12, 2024
  • Constance Dunn

44 Sea Cove Drive: A Luxurious Blufftop Residence by Luis De Moraes

44 Sea Cove Drive is a luxurious 4-bedroom, 5-bathroom home, recently remodeled to perfection, offers breathtaking views of the Pacific Ocean and Catalina Island. With over an acre of usable land, it's an ideal setting for grand events and family gatherings. The property boasts a sun-filled floor plan, custom-designed furnishings, and seamless indoor-outdoor living.
  • May 29, 2024
  • Constance Dunn

Rock Formation: OPEN Architecture’s Chapel of Sound

Located in rural Chengde, China, at the base of a valley with ruins of the Great Wall, the almost alien-looking performance venue Chapel of Sound, which hosts concerts in warmer climes and contemplation year-round, is an architectural opus by Beijing-based OPEN Architecture.
  • May 1, 2024
  • Jenn Thornton

Northern Exposure: The Rock by Gort Scott

Fixed to a rocky crag above Alta Lake in the Canadian mountain resort of Whistler, a truly exceptional private house surveys the mountainous landscape from which it is quite literally inseparable.
  • April 17, 2024
  • Jenn Thornton

Neri&Hu Architects: Making Memory

A contemporary take on traditional Chinese courtyard house by Neri&Hu, a typology based on Confucian ideals where different generations live under the same roof, the structure was built for three siblings, with a memorial garden in tribute to their late mother.
  • April 3, 2024
  • Jenn Thornton

Framing Nature with TEN Studio

A patch of land on Avala Mountain in rural Serbia sets the stage for a gridded, steel-frame structure by TEN Studio.
  • February 7, 2024
  • Jenn Thornton
Sign Up for DIGS Newsletters