Olson designed the Whatcom Museum’s spectacular “Lightcatcher” building
in Bellingham, Wash.

Jim Olson WSU Museum of Art
Chris Bruce, left, and Jim Olson in the WSU Museum
of Art.
PULLMAN, Wash. – The award-winning firm of world renowned Seattle architect Jim Olson has been selected to design the new Museum of Art at Washington State University.
Olson may be best known for the spectacular homes he has designed for art collectors worldwide.
“Jim brings a wealth of experience in not only crafting beautiful environments for works of art, but in working with artists to discover new opportunities for expressing their creativity,” said Chris Bruce, director of the museum. “We look forward to a building that showcases great objects, opens space for art that has yet to be dreamed of and ultimately sends the unmistakable message that this university values the way the arts connect across disciplines, generations and cultural backgrounds.”
“The opportunity to create a building for the campus and the entire region that is dedicated to sharing the power of art, and the spirit of creativity that art embodies, means a great deal to me,” Olson said. “It is a testament to the cultural commitment WSU holds for its family of students and the broader community.”
“The museum expansion project represents an exceptional opportunity for WSU to acknowledge the significance of the role of art in education and life,” said Greg Kessler, director of the WSU School of Design and Construction. “Olson Kundig Architects are uniquely qualified to design a building that elevates art to the highest standard. The building will become a beacon for the arts at WSU, the surrounding communities and the western U.S.”
About the project
Olson Kundig Architects was selected from a national, open call for qualifications. The appointment follows a three-month selection process that involved interviews with three other leading architectural firms.
Construction of the $9 million museum is expected to begin in 2015, with costs funded through private donations. The site will extend from the existing gallery north to Wilson Road in the Fine Arts Plaza, directly across from Martin Stadium.
The building will feature an open and welcoming front entrance that can serve as a destination gathering place for students, faculty and the public. New spaces will include permanent collection galleries, an outdoor sculpture garden and galleries for special exhibitions.
“Our goal has always been to build a stunning piece of architecture that not only houses art, but that welcomes the entire community and literally represents – and stimulates – creativity,” Bruce said.
“This will be a living museum – a museum unlike any other – yet one that is an extension of its place,” Olson said. “The museum will breathe new life to the center of campus, already a hub of activity. The beauty of the Palouse and the Inland Empire – its light, colors and seasons – will be an integral part of the museum and serve to connect and open it to the campus, the region and the world.
“It will be a place alive with people, art and the creative spirit,” he said. “I can’t wait to start!”
About architect Jim Olson
Olson is the founding partner of Olson Kundig Architects. For 45 years, he has dedicated his practice to exploring relationships between art, architecture and nature in his work, which ranges from houses to museums to religious buildings.
His career has achieved global status, resulting in commissions across North America, Europe and Asia.
His work appears regularly in publications and has been the subject of multiple books, including “Jim Olson Houses,” published by Monacelli Press in 2009, and the newly released, “Jim Olson: Art in Architecture,” published by The Whatcom Museum/August Editions. His work, and that of the firm, has been featured in more than 1,000 publications in print and online and recognized with dozens of awards, including some of the nation’s highest honors.
A retrospective of Olson’s career was on exhibit at the WSU Museum of Art in fall 2011. Learn more and see photos in an earlier WSU News article here.
About the firm
Olson Kundig Architects began its creative existence with architect Olson based on some simple ideas: that buildings can serve as a bridge between nature, culture and people, and that inspiring surroundings have a positive effect on people’s lives.
In 1996, Tom Kundig joined Olson as an owner, taking the firm to another level of creative exploration and helping it grow into an office with an international reputation. The firm has more than 90 employees whose work includes museums, commercial design, academic buildings, exhibit design, interior design, places of worship and residences – often for art collectors.
The firm’s accolades include a national 2013 American Institute of Architects (AIA) Architecture Honor Award, national 2013 AIA Interior Architecture Honor Award, induction into the 2012 Interior Design Hall of Fame, 2009 AIA Architecture Firm Award (as Olson Sundberg Kundig Allen Architects), regional design awards from the AIA, American Architecture Awards from the Chicago Athenaeum, Jim Olson’s 2007 Seattle Medal of Honor and Tom Kundig’s National Design Award from the Smithsonian Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum and Academy Award in Architecture from the American Academy of Arts and Letters.
“I had the unique opportunity two summers ago to teach a studio course out of the office and experience firsthand the culture of creativity the office promotes, including a strong commitment to educate the young and upcoming in the art and business of making architecture,” said Ayad Rahmani, associate professor of architecture in the WSU School of Design and Construction.
“Jim Olson was kind enough to spend some time with the students, talking about his visions and ideals and counseling them on their own journey moving forward,” he said. “Even though he is many times their age, you could tell he so enjoys being with people and creating an atmosphere of mutual respect.”


Debby Stinson, Museum of Art/WSU, 509-335-6282,
Anna-Maria Shannon, Museum of Art/WSU, 509-335-6140,