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olson kundig architects' mobile 'maxon studio' rolls into the forest on railroad tracks

the maxon studio on wheels


Olson Kundig Architects introduces this so-called ‘Maxon Studio,’ as a private workspace to compliment an existing home nestled amongst the forests of a rural area outside Seattle. The project creates a workspace and a retreat for quiet reflection. Taking shape as a two-story steel tower and mounted on a fifteen-foot-gauge railroad track, the studio is designed to seamlessly transition from a nested extension of the home‘s living space to an independent, detached structure. Maxon Studio mirrors the materiality and views of the original house, also designed by Olson Kundig Architects, while also translating the dwelling’s horizontal proportions into a vertical volume, creating a truly unique contrast with the existing building and offering a fresh perspective of the heavily wooded site.

olson kundig architects' mobile 'maxon studio' rolls into the forest on railroad tracksimages © Aaron Leitz



olson kundig draws from the regions railroad heritage


During the design of its Maxon Studio, Olson Kundig Architects draws its unique inspiration from the local region’s rail industry legacy and the excavation site’s discovery of steel cables and railroad spikes during the construction of the main house. Similar to a traditional caboose, the studio’s lower level serves as the primary workspace and features a built-in desk and numerous shelves for storage and display. A steel-clad wall surrounds the workspace, allowing for easy replacement of visually stimulating materials to match changing creative themes and assignments. Accessible by way of a steel ladder, the upper level is envisioned as a peaceful retreat for creative exploration and restoration. ‘This level functions much like a cupola on a train’s caboose,’ the architects note, ‘a high vantage point to look out across the landscape.’

olson kundig maxon studio



When we started designing a studio for Lou, we talked about the importance of leaving the main house and having a commute as part of the experience,’ says design principal Tom Kundig.I said, somewhat jokingly, ‘Could we deploy Lou out into the forest? How cool would it be to take his office and put it on tracks?’ It started as an offhand comment, but we quickly realized we all wanted to figure out how to make it happen.’

olson kundig maxon studio



inside the quiet retreat and workspace


With its Maxon Studio on wheels, Olson Kundig Architects demonstrates the influence of train and railway design through subtle references and industry artifacts throughout the studio. For instance, the studio’s control panel, formerly installed in a Burlington Northern locomotive, has been rewired and adapted to manage electrical acceleration and braking.


The studio door has been painted in the original DuPont paint color of the striping on Great Northern trains, and the interior walls have been clad with plywood, a material commonly used in railcars. Furthermore, authentic wooden railroad ties repurposed from a Great Northern Railroad relay line have been used, although the steel tracks have a larger gauge than is typically used. Inspired by Japanese high-speed railways, the studio track includes a stabilizing bar to prevent the tower from tipping during an earthquake.

olson kundig maxon studio



Seeing the studio for the first time after construction, I was blown away. It’s a beautiful object, beautifully fabricated, but moving it along the track is another experience entirely,’ Tom Kundig continues, describing the work of the client and general contractor Lou Maxon along with the team at Alpine Welding.What Lou and Alpine were able to achieve with reconfiguring the electronics of the control panel and elegantly allowing the electrical connection to unspool behind the studio is absolute brilliance. It’s a prime example of taking an idea 60% or 70% of the way, and then stepping aside to let an expert bring it fully to life.

olson kundig maxon studio


olson kundig maxon studio




project info:


project title: Maxon Studio

architecture: Olson Kundig Architects @olsonkundig

location: Carnation, Washington

size: 300 square feet

project team: Tom Kundig, FAIA, RIBA, Design Principal; Edward Lalonde, Principal; Phil Turner, Gizmologist

client, general contractor: Lou Maxon

key consultants: Alpine Welding, Steel Fabrication; MCE Structural Consultants, Structural Engineer

completion: 2022

photography: © Aaron Leitz

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