Olson Kundig Architects
2012 AIA Seattle Honor Award
Photo Credit: Dwight Eschliman, Benjamin Benschneider
A native of Bakersfield, California, Roger had an early vocation for architecture. He earned the BArch in 1968 at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, and beginning a tradition of activism, joined in the creation of a Community Design Center and attended the AIA Convention as President of the nation's largest AIAS chapter.
After an Army tour as an architect with the Corps of Engineers that included design of facilities in Okinawa, Roger and his young family moved to Seattle to allow him to pursue a career in teaching, via graduate studies at the University of Washington (MArch 1975). Beginning before graduation, Roger established his pattern of combining teaching and practice. Following internship and licensure, he established Roger Williams Architects as a unique "learning place" for students, emerging professionals, and clients. His early residential and commercial work attracted public and professional attention, as did his unusual practice.
The ongoing connection with architectural learning, innovation, and research includes Roger's regular guest lecturing at the UW College of Architecture and Urban Planning and at WSU, and service on the Professional Advisory Council of WSU's School of Architecture and Construction Management.
AIA activism also drew his energy. He became involved with Architects in the Schools, then saw the potential in the newly-organized Intern Development Program (IDP) – and he became the champion of young professionals at AIA Seattle. Elected to the Board of Directors in 1983, he made IDP not only a viable program but also a springboard to professionalism for many emerging practitioners. This led to a four-year leadership role as an AIA member of the national IDP Coordinating Committee.
As AIA Seattle President 1987-88, he energized a range of activities that helped earn Seattle architects a place in the national scene – including the growing Seattle Architectural Foundation, the nation's first-ever client-focused street-front Resource Center for Architecture, and a commitment to innovation, public outreach, and interdisciplinary dialog.
Roger's interest in Japanese culture burgeoned and became the driving force in his leadership of the international practice initiative beginning in the late 1980s. Through trade missions and lecture tours undertaken as a representative for various US and Japanese government and trade organizations [see "An Architect's Role in International Commerce," below], Roger expanded his portfolio as an international emissary for American design, products, and sustainable building technology. His special credibility and perspective as an architect paved the way for technology transfer that increasingly characterizes the global design and construction market.
Returning benefit to his fellow professionals, Roger brought his ever-widening international perspective to local, regional, and national colleagues, as planner and convenor of "Design for Pacific Cultures," the AIA Northwest & Pacific Region 1994 Conference with elements in Seattle and Fukuoka, well-attended by architects from both the US and Japan. This effort engendered relationships with Japanese architectural colleagues that made Roger an effective part of the AIA mission to Kobe in 1995 following the Great Hanshin Earthquake. He went on to join and to chair AIA's International Practice PIA, writing the chapter on international practice for the Architect's Handbook for Professional Practice 13th Edition; and continues to lecture extensively at home and abroad.
In 1985, Roger Williams Architects merged with Mithun Partners, and Roger played a key role as the firm became one of Seattle's and the nation's most dynamic firms. In 2004, he reestablished independent practice as Roger Williams Architecture + Design + Photography, continuing his role in education both at WSU and in international assignments.
'An Architect's Role in International Commerce'
Service Report by Roger Williams, in The AIA Seattle Architect January 2004
"My fascination with Asia and my work there began in 1970, when shortly after graduating from architecture school (BArch Cal Poly 1968) I served as an architect in the US Army in Okinawa. After I settled in Seattle, my career focused on residential design, usually including some teaching at UW (MArch 1978), as well as AIA committee activity.
"In the mid-1980s, my own firm [Roger Williams Architects], like others in Seattle and the Northwest, began cultivating opportunities in Europe and Asia. In some cases, the State of Washington and industry groups sponsored trade delegations in which architects took part. On such a mission to Sweden, I was to meet the central players in an adventure unequaled in my career.
"The endeavor to develop trade relations, encourage the export of Washington wood products, and introduce Northwest planning and architectural concepts advanced dramatically when Paul Isaki, then Director of DTED under Governor Booth Gardner, organized a demonstration project known as Washington Village - a 171-unit housing development with Washington's Sister State, Hyogo Prefecture, supported by a forest products industry consortium known as the Evergreen Partnership. The broad aims of this group, well matched to the ethos and goals of architects, included the increased export of US construction technology and materials, with Northwest wood-frame housing design as the vehicle for application of these products and services.
"The match with my interests and those of other firms seemed well made, and we began to see growing success. In effect, we helped to re-introduce design in wood structure to Japan. As well as satisfying the goals of the mission, it pleased and delighted me to see the enthusiasm with which our Japanese colleagues embraced and reinvigorated traditional and new wood framing together in the creation of new architecture and communities.
"During my service on the AIA Seattle Board of Directors (culminating in a term as AIA Seattle President 1987-88), I chaired a program in which we exported the model of the AIA Seattle booth at the Seattle Home Show - assembling a group of local architects in residential practice to participate in a the largest trade home show in Japan. As was increasingly happening, the Washington Department of Trade and Economic Development (DTED) organized that venture which was the only example of direct support for architects from a trade organization in the U.S. Following that we had the opportunity to build a complete house "under construction" at the American Expo in Japan, sponsored by the Japanese government. The project exhibited along with the Smithsonian Institution, NASA, the NBA, NFL, Major League Baseball and the National Gallery showing to over 2 million visitors.
"My own work in this area grew, especially a regular program of lecturing at trade shows and professional group gatherings in Japan and elsewhere in Asia. As Chair of the AIA Seattle committee that planned and executed the 1994 Conference of the AIA NW + Pacific Region - actually "Design for Pacific Cultures" ended up as reciprocal conferences in Seattle and Japan, in cooperation with the Japan Institute of Architects (JIA) - I had the opportunity to bring together others with similar experiences and aspirations regarding work in Japan and Asia. This led, among other things, to my taking part in the 3-person national AIA mission to Kobe following the disastrous Kansai Quake of 1995, and later my appointment to serve on then chair the AIA International Committee.
"I've also had the opportunity to work locally with the Trade Development Alliance of the Seattle Chamber of Commerce and chair the Japan-America Society, as dedication to the idea of global exchange of ideas, goods and services. Several other architects in our area have, and continue to contribute much and gain much from similar work in Asia. in the past as well as currently. Some of these are sole practitioners, others large firms, but in each case the realization of universal commonalities enriches the endeavor and the person.
"Over the past 16 years, as a Principal in my own firm, then at Mithun and in association with various organizations, I've made over 50 project and/or lecture tour visits to Japan, two to Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Viet Nam and China. Depending on the interests and expertise of the groups I address, I share American perspectives on the design process, interiors, lighting, sustainable design and products.
"In 2003, the US Department of Commerce made a three-year grant to the Evergreen Building Products Association Partnership DTED and CINTRAFOR, the UW-based Center for International Trade in Forest Products, to introduce selected exports to China, in a program known as US-China Build. As prime consultant, I have the charge to organize lectures on the advantages of using not only Washington wood products but a wide range of American building materials, combined with the applicable design elements utilizing these products.
"In connection to that latest effort, I am selecting firms and editing a bilingual book-length publication showcasing 30 American architects' residential work - with local examples including Miller|Hull Partnership, Lake/Flato, Stephen Erhlich and Sorg & Associates for distribution throughout China.
"I believe that all of these efforts have left positive impressions of Americans with thousands of people; and have advanced the economic viability development of Washington State, which depends heavily on international trade, and especially exports programs to Asia. Also, this has enhanced the reputation of architecture and Northwest architects among local, national and international business leaders, government officials and institutions. The work, at times, of course, is very strenuous, but it has brought significant benefit to our practice, and great pleasure and reward to me as an architect and a global citizen. I take particular pride and joy in the associations and friendship with colleagues around the Pacific Rim that have come about as a result of this endeavor. I intend to nurture those relationships for a lifetime.
"As is often taught: In Asia it is all about relationships: a valuable lesson to practice anyplace."
* In international travels and other pursuits, Roger Williams records images on camera. Many have enjoyed his photographs, exhibited in numerous galleries and in private collections.
* In Seattle Times Pacific Northwest 1/15/05, Dean Stahl presents the home designed by Roger Williams for his family, in "Imagination Unlimited"
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