It is difficult to pinpoint the root of Kundig’s genius: perhaps it’s his prioritization of site-sensitive context over chasing after a would-be hallmark style, it could also be the meticulous planning which perversely remains humble and open to the core narrative-whatever it is, Tom Kundig is one of the few Starchitects who have won us over. To put it simply, Kundig’s signature detailing, his exacting process, and integration of natural landscapes play a huge role in humanizing work of any scale. A forthright speaker, he defines his approach to design by,” making a place for human beings to be human” and embraces the incorporation of contemporary machinery and physics (levers, cranks, pivoting walls, shading, and wheels) to channel nature through fluidity of movement. This unique approach gives his work with the Seattle-based firm, Olson Kundig, its classic post-industrial glamour, and rustic charm.
Saint Martin’s Lane Winery: Context and Client Briefing
A perfect merger of Kundig’s design philosophy exists in the stunning steel, glass, and concrete affair nestled seamlessly into the Kelowna hillside in British Columbia-namely AIA award-winning Saint Martin’s Lane winery. Following their success with the design of Mission Hill’s winery, proprietor Von Mandl recommissioned Olson Kundig and gave them free rein to work their magic. The winery was a means to showcase the client’s decade-long commitment to Okanagan valley and stamp its importance as a leader in the world’s viniculture map.
The first design priority was ensuring that the highest quality of Pinot Noir was produced, in keeping with the client’s production ideology. Here the designers let the fruit speak for itself: since Pinot Noir, the notoriously delicate ‘Heartbreak grape’, responded adversely to typical mechanical methods a ‘gravity-flow process was introduced to minimize the manipulation of the fruit. The form was split into two interconnecting volumes: with the production side harnessing the steep slope to move wine through differences in weight/volume, while the cantilevered visitors’ experience side offered majestic views of the wine yards below. Clerestory windows shroud and bind the two zones, filtering light into the layered interior. Sensitive treatment of design also extended to the treatment of existing topography: the exterior rugged finishing primarily consisted of neutral-toned, unfinished materials such as Corten’s steel who’s expected weathering would help it blend seamlessly with the natural environment.
Design Strategy: Passive and Active
In terms of choice of materiality and finalizing design decisions; simplicity and authenticity to the winery process are the chief concerns. Building materials pay homage to the agricultural heritage of the area while at the same time standing the test of durability and flexibility against the elements. Energy consumption is also minimized by using earth cooling as a heat sink to drastically decrease cooling expenditure by a margin of 10%. This gives it the selling point of being one of the few wineries that require no interior conditioning enabling it to keep barrel storage at an ideal 54 degrees with 75% humidity. Similarly, the topographical placement and orientation help to funnel cool lake air into the building, providing natural ventilation. Efficiency and no wastage principles are reflected in the diversion of rainwater collected on the split roof towards the organic garden and neighboring animal sanctuary. Modern technologies are combined with passive strategies, for example, most of the tanks are designed to be easily removable and changed despite the existing gravity flow system thereby making it easier to monitor quality control in the wine-making process.
Aesthetic Reconstruction And Design Narrative
The visitors center draws you into the process and soul of the winery, creating an intricate narrative through following the proverbial light at the end of the dark tunnel up into the spiral staircase inspired by the Fibonacci sequence of the growth of grapevines and stainless-steel filtering equipment. Offices and visitor spaces are intertwined with production areas, which include rooms for receiving grapes, fermenting, settling, bottling, and storage. Here the visitors are guided into the gleaming stepped production facilities that simpilize production flow and let the grapes grace out, unfettered by worldly concerns of artificial flavor profiling and market rates. Warm woods and fluid curvature of the reception room hail an elegant farewell to the utilitarian aesthetic found in the rest of the center. Throughout the tour, large expanses of glass allow visitors to drink in the gorgeous views of the terrain.
Olson Kundig’s design of Saint Martin’s winery is a study, in contrast, collaboration passive design strategy, user sensitive design, and ultimately the creation of a structure that is not forcibly imposed but rather builds and grows with the environment at large. Kundig’s success is attributed to his care to sensitively assess user need and unify it with the latest innovative technology. Olson Kundig introduces the idea of the role of an architect being that of a listener-someone who understands user requirements on all fronts (both biotic as well as abiotic). Humanization brings the design home and allows for the creation of narrative and discovery. As summarized aptly by Tom Kundig himself, “Like wine, the more nuance you can build into a building, the more you appreciate it over time”.
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