Olson Kundig Architects
2012 AIA Seattle Honor Award
Photo Credit: Dwight Eschliman, Benjamin Benschneider
Thank you very much for your kind and generous citation. I will never forget when I learned of this incredible honor some weeks ago. I was by turns surprised, humbled, honored and ultimately extremely grateful. It is particularly meaningful to me that it comes in the 25th year of our firm's existence.
I am sure that many, in fact most, of the past honorees have been awarded this medal based on their achievements as individuals - I am not among them. There is nothing that I have accomplished that has not been done in collaboration with others - so for me the theme of this little talk must be a sharing of the honor surrounding this medal with the many people in different areas of endeavor with whom I have worked over the years and of course, with my incredibly supportive and involved family.
I believe that many of you know that George Loschky, Jud Marquardt and I worked together at NBBJ for 10 years where we learned so much about our profession while working together with talented colleagues and under extraordinary partner leadership. That is where we formed many of the attitudes and values upon which we based the culture of Loschky, Marquardt & Nesholm, now LMN Architects.
We began LMN with a concept of balance - valuing rigorous project execution equally with our high aspirations to design quality - clearly that attitude has resonated with our clients and has motivated our extraordinary staff. It has resulted in our growth to our present size with many wonderful projects completed and many more on the boards. L, M and N also succeeded because the three of us had a great chemistry working together and because we were willing to make the necessary personal sacrifices to get started right. But it wasn't just us - it was our families - my family who was so supportive and willing to do without husband or father for so many hours and years. In those exciting early days, it was truly a community effort focused on building a firm with lasting values. Over the years we have continued to build on that foundation and now we are a group of six partner leaders sharing the same values with talented and committed architects and urban and interior designers at every level. It has been a particular pleasure for me to observe the architects whom I have hired develop into consummate professionals contributing so much to the present and future of LMN.
My family and I have always had a passionate interest in music, education and the arts and so it has been immensely satisfying that our firm has been the architect for important buildings in the civic and cultural life of our city including Benaroya Hall and McCaw Hall in addition to the Convention Center and projects done in collaboration with others - the Henry Art Gallery with Charlie Gwathmey, EMP with Frank Gehry, the Seattle Public Library with Rem Koolhaas and we are now working with Brad Cloepfil and the Seattle Art Museum. These are in addition to the many higher education projects for which we have had sole responsibility that have been so personally rewarding.
It has been my pleasure to lead our firm's interaction with several of the immensely talented architects with whom we have worked. Two are of particular satisfaction to me.
First, our work over the past 12 years with Moore Ruble Yudel initially with the active participation of Charles Moore on the University of Washington Tacoma campus. We collaborated on the Master Plan for that brand new campus and subsequently each firm has designed a number of buildings on it. Charles was the consummate humanist - evolving an architecture of wit and charm out of his keen observations of architectural imagery from his extensive travels all over the world. I will always remember a personal vignette - after a client meeting in Tacoma - our team was sitting around a dinner table in the Tacoma Sheraton with Charles leading us in the singing of Christmas carols amongst the bemused customers - that spontaneous outpouring of joy found its way into his architecture.
And the library with Rem - as Frank Gehry said "now that Rem, he is really something". He is a towering intellect who evolves his buildings out of programmatic innovation expressed through architectural form. He is one of the very few in any century who have created a new architecture. And we at LMN have learned much from the way in which he pushes all aspects of design - not just the aesthetic but also technical innovation - all the way to the creation of new materials to achieve the project's design goals. To me the new library is successful not only in the obvious ways but also in its celebration of the human spirit and the way in which it conveys a sense of optimism about the future.
I have been privileged to have had what David Rockefeller called in his autobiography a "parallel career" in community involvement. I am immensely appreciative of my partners' acceptance and encouragement of these activities. There have been a great number of interesting involvements over the years including AIA activities with the legendary and irrepressible Marga and more recently Rainier Club activities with Michael Troyer and his capable and talented team. It was during my time many years ago on the AIASeattle Board and as Chapter President that I learned so much about boardsmanship. That opportunity provided real growth.
For the past 11 years, it has been my honor to serve as the President of the Board of Trustees of Seattle Opera. Speight Jenkins is, I am convinced, the finest General Director working today. The caliber of the work of our company has evolved to the highest level. This past season of four new productions and one renovated production involved the work of some of the finest singers, directors, designers and musicians working today and has provided incredibly memorable nights in the theater. The response by critics from all over the nation and world has been astonishingly positive. We are proud of the fact that artistic excellence has been achieved with balanced budgets for 11 consecutive years and we are cautiously optimistic about this, the 12th. Over the years, I have enjoyed a unique partnership working with Speight and first with the late Kathy Magiera and now with Kelly Tweeddale our Administrative Director. Our positive chemistry has seen us through so much from the elimination of an accumulated $2.6M deficit years ago to participation in the successful $72M private fund raising campaign for McCaw Hall. And my wife, Laurel has been my partner in all of this - in fact; I believe that we should be called co-presidents.
In 1987 we were given a great opportunity to take up the work of the community through the Nesholm Family Foundation that was created through my father's will. He strongly believed in a forward looking problem solving approach to life and to giving back to the community that was so good to him and to our family. We are governed by a Board of Trustees consisting of me as President, Joe Gaffney and Dr. Ed Marcuse. Laurel is our incredibly hard working volunteer Executive Director and until her retirement Diana Kallmer was our staff member - she has been succeeded by Nancy Cochran. Our daughters, Kirsten and Erika are now joining our Board. It has been a wonderful gift to be able to work together as a family along with our Board colleagues collaborating on grant making activities in our three focus areas - health and human services, the performing arts and education in Seattle.
It might be interesting to touch on a highlight in each of them.
In 1988, we joined with the Seattle King County Department of Public Health to fund a demonstration project at Rainier Beach High School to prove the effectiveness of school based health clinics offering both physical health and mental health services. That project was so overwhelmingly successful that health clinics were included in the Families and Education Levies of 1990 and 1997 and today there are health clinics in all 10 Seattle High Schools and 4 Middle Schools providing much needed access to health care and counseling services for all students.
We fund a wide variety of performing arts projects including dance, music and theater but our greatest passion is for Opera. It has been our great pleasure to assist in the funding of such landmark new productions as the 1990 War and Peace, the 1998 Tristan, our amazing new production of the Ring and in the season just completed a new Carmen that sold out an unprecedented 13 performances. In many ways, Seattle Opera is where everything comes together for me - our love of the art form, our firm's design of McCaw Hall, our family's involvement in the company and our Foundation's ability to support both the hall and the work that goes on within it.
In the opinion of our Foundation Board, the single greatest challenge facing our nation today is the continuing crisis in k-12 public education. Therefore four years ago we decided to concentrate our entire education budget on school reform. After considerable research we concluded that the greatest need is in Middle Schools - there is much good work going on at the High School and Elementary levels but little serving the needs of these critical years. We then created a relationship with three of the neediest and poorest performing inner city Middle Schools, Mercer, Denny and Meany. We assembled a consultant team and designed a program aimed at increasing student achievement. We provide staff development for teachers and Principals around a literacy focus through training and site visits to successful schools and have incorporated various techniques in the classroom such as the creation of what is called a "print rich environment". We employ a team of substitute teachers to provide meaningful time for teachers in their respective departments to meet as a group to coordinate their teaching through a technique called curriculum mapping. We are leading in the reinvention of the role of the Principal. We encourage them to act as Instructional Leaders in their schools by providing training and operating support to reduce the time Principals spend on mundane administrative tasks. And since more that half of the entering 6th grade students are 2 or more grades behind in reading ability, we provide a full time reading coach in each school to work with the language arts teachers to develop effective techniques to increase reading skills. We have also purchased thousands of books for each school to stock classroom and central libraries. All of these activities are overseen by our Board and are ably coordinated by Laurel.
To date these initiatives have changed the culture in every classroom in every school. They have deeply affected teaching techniques and have changed the approach of teachers from isolated individual effort to a culture of collegial collaboration. Any visitor to the schools would have no doubt as to their focus and their educational values. Our success so far is represented by a combination of progress in raising test scores and positive anecdotal indicators. At Mercer test scores are indeed higher. Denny recently swept the District wide Science Fair winning 10 top prizes including awards for the best 7th and 8th grade projects and Denny won its first ever music awards. Meany has turned around years of declining enrolments and next year expects to have 16% more students.
These positive developments cause us to be optimistic about the potential for real progress in the future.
It has been my habit to write down felicitous phrases when I have heard them at various events. At the Arts Fund lunch five weeks ago the principal speaker, while talking about art, referred to and I quote "the ecstasy of the privileged moment". This is such a moment for me. Thank you very very much.
Good design makes a difference