Thinking Large, Building Small

In a world that rewards size, Seattle architect Tom Kundig likes to build small. He designs modest houses to be made of steel plate as thick as your finger and concrete you could sharpen a knife on. The physical immediacy of his buildings is like biting into a lemon.

Kundig designed the entire wall of this Idaho vacation house to pivot and open to the sky. Its hand-powered gizmo is so efficient the owner’s eight-year-old daughter can use it to lift the two-ton wall. A gesture like this would go unnoticed in an airplane hangar. In a small house, it is sensational.

There is a history of small buildings that have an influence greater than their size, for example: Thorncrown Chapel in Arkansas by Fay Jones, the Magney House in Australia by Glenn Murcutt, and the Pilgrimage Chapel at Ronchamps, France, by Le Corbusier. Each has inspired architects to rethink building.

Building small doesn’t guarantee great architecture, but it doesn’t prevent it, either.