Keith R. Kolb

Fellow | AIA

Kolb, Keith R.

(1922 – 2019)

A native of Montana, Keith Robert Kolb was born on February 9, 1922. Growing up in Billings, he traveled around Montana, playing drums with his high school marching band. He also played piano and planned on a music career, but when he enrolled at the University of Washington, he switched to architecture. Kolb’s UW education was interrupted by World War II, where he served in the 104th Infantry Division as an advance scout on the front lines in Belgium and Germany. While in the Army, he earned a Basic Engineering degree in 1944 through Rutgers University’s US Army Specialized Training Program. After the war, he returned to the University of Washington and earned a Bachelor’s degree in Architecture in 1947. A talented student, upon graduation he became the only teacher of architectural design at Montana State College (1947-1949). “Disillusioned with teaching” Kolb moved to Cambridge, MA in order to learn from Walter Gropius and received a Master’s degree from Harvard in 1950.

While back East, Kolb spent two years with Gropius and The Architects Collaborative, where he declined a partnership offer and. Instead he returned to Seattle in 1952 and took a job as the senior draftsman for the architectural firm of Decker & Christenson. However, Kolb did not remain there long, and soon started his own office, Keith R. Kolb & Associates in 1954. Business was good, but Decker wanted him back and so in 1967 he invited him to return to the firm as a full partner. The firm was then renamed Decker, Kolb & Stansfield. Upon Decker’s death in 1971, the firm’s name was changed to Kolb & Stansfield.

By the late 1960s, the firm began receiving many high profile commissions including the Nelskog Building (1969) in Everett; Redmond City Library (1975); a Bio-Sciences Building/Eastlick Hall for Washington State University (1977) in Pullman; the State Patrol Headquarters in Bellevue; Stevens Memorial Hospital near Edmonds (c.1975); and the Seattle First National Bank in Forks (1980, design citation from the American Wood Council).

Other high-profile designs include a remodel of University District Post Office in Seattle (1981); US Post Office sorting facility in Seattle’s Interbay; an expansion of the Drs. John & Joan Hampson House (1973) which received an AIA Honor Award in Better Homes for Better Living Program; the central facility for Seattle’s Puget Sound Blood Center (1982), and the Pacific Northwest Bell Microwave Tower (1981) on Bainbridge Island (a Bronze Award from James F. Lincoln Arc Welding Foundation).

Shortly after his arrival in Seattle, Kolb was encouraged by then University of Washington Dean of the School of Architecture, Arthur P. Hermann, to develop a career which combined both teaching and an independent architectural practice. To the betterment of his students, he believed strongly that architecture professors should also be simultaneously in practice, asserting that full-time academics lose touch with the living profession, thereby weakening the force or relevance of their teaching. Such thinking was contrary to several faculty members and Kolb had many battles with the UW architecture program leadership over this principle.

Over the next four decades, Kolb taught at UW College of Architecture and Urban Planning, rising to level of full professor in 1982. Kolb influenced several generations of architects until his designation as Professor Emeritus in 1990.

Recognizing his work in advancing the profession, Kolb was inducted in the AIA College of Fellows in 1981 and received a Lifetime Achievement Award for teaching from the UW College of Built Environments in 2018. He passed away peacefully at home on January 24, 2019.

– Michael C Houser

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