Photo of Cornish Commons

Photo of Cornish Commons

Photo of Cornish Commons

Photo of Cornish Commons

Photo of Cornish Commons

Photo of Cornish Commons

Cornish Commons

Artistic Living for Students

Cornish College of the Arts is a small, private liberal arts school dedicated to educating students in an environment that nurtures creativity and prepares them to become artists, citizens, and innovators. Located in the rapidly expanding South Lake Union neighborhood in Seattle, Cornish was in urgent need of housing for 300 students due to an expiring lease. Our team designed a 20-story high-rise that accommodates student housing, academics, and academic offices that was delivered on an aggressive, 28-month schedule—from conception to opening. Our team streamlined communication and worked closely with the owner, developer, and contractor to shorten timelines and lower costs. The LEED® Gold for Homes Mid-Rise is a new live/learn center that's become an icon for the campus.

Seattle, Washington
  • 224 units, 438 beds
  • 20 stories
  • 156,015 sq. ft.
  • Completed in 2015

Learning Centers , Student Housing


Architecture: Murray Jenkins

Interiors: Cindy Schaumberg

Brand: Sara Van Dyke

Architecture Story

A New Campus Icon

In 2013, Cornish simultaneously faced a lack of housing stock and an expiring lease on an existing facility. Without a solution, roughly 300 students would be without housing in two years. Together with Capstone Development, we delivered a development solution to rapidly provide housing for 438 students from Cornish College and the neighboring City University of Seattle. The site's small footprint—9,000 sq. ft.—made a vertical approach the only way to go. From the owner, developer, and design-build partners, everyone came together to form one highly collaborative team that streamlined the typical design process. To create the new live/learn center, our team connected the urban identity of Seattle with the objectives of Cornish stakeholders and developed a comprehensive plan for the integrated design-build team. In just 28 months, the innovative partnership delivered a resourceful and striking response. The new vertical live learn facility was 100% leased before completion, accommodating the needs of two academic institutions and their students with integrated classroom, office, and student living spaces. Cornish Commons creates the identity of Cornish College in South Lake Union. Its design was propelled by the school’s desire to "create an intellectual icon for Seattle that nurtures its students and promotes creativity." Through an extensive urban planning exercise, the team developed an existing parking lot into a true urban campus with a clearly defined sense of place. Inspired by the school’s focus on the arts, the brightly colored south wall is a metaphor of dance and movement while the rest of the skin system is organized around the structure of rhythm and sheet music. In addition to offering amenities for students that are more common in high-end, market-rate residential offerings, the project represents substantial value, quality, and community improvement compared to previous housing options offered to students. Cornish Student Housing has a Gold level certification under the LEED® for Homes Mid-Rise 2010 Rating System. From the beginning, the entire design-build team was intent on delivering a healthier, more comfortable, resource-efficient building. A focus on indoor air quality includes less-harmful finishes and effective ventilation to provide a better place to study and sleep. As the first ground-up project for Cornish since 1921, this creatively conceived and executed public/private partnership (PPP) development is a work of living art. Cornish Commons not only accomplished aggressive programmatic and schedule objectives but it is a landmark building for Cornish and a positive addition to the Seattle skyline.


Interior Story

A Living Room for All Students

Cornish President Nancy J. Uscher wanted the new Cornish Commons to "be the heart of [the] South Lake Union campus and the 'living room' for all of [the] students, not just the residents." Commuter students, faculty, and staff all combine to create a bustling center of activity for the campus. Our team spent days fully immersed on the existing campus to understand the student experience and the unique way the school teaches. At the core of Cornish's philosophy is a desire to expose students to a wide range of art disciplines. For example, dancers take graphic design classes, and graphic designers take classes with architects. They expect students to see different perspectives on design and art to get a holistic, creative experience. Cross-disciplinary learning weaves through our interior design. The interiors mix and match students across disciplines by providing a variety of studio spaces (music, painting, study rooms) on different floors, encouraging student engagement vertically throughout the building. The visual metaphor of artistry flows from the outside in. The geometry and color of the façade add rhythm to the interior textures. Bold color pops, geometric floor patterns and textural feature walls encourage collaboration and cross pollination among the residents and staff. The design stimulates intellectual curiosity and student collaboration while preparing them to enter society as artists, citizens, and innovators. The residential design also responds to the specific needs for different students. Small touches like providing bathtubs for dancers to soak in after a day of classes or using whiteboard paint for the artists to doodle sets the space apart from the average college residence hall. The new Commons creates a strong community that supports academic, professional, and social pursuits all in one building. The first floor includes reception, lounge areas, a grand staircase designed to inspire social engagement. The two levels have double-height space with floor-to-ceiling glass organized around a bold feature stair. Also included are two student gallery walls, a hearth, movie watching area, community study rooms, four movement theatre studios, a counseling center, and academic support. Driven by the idea of transparency, these floors create a living room that drives round-the-clock student activity. Making the most of the views of the city and Sound, every residential unit has floor-to-ceiling glass windows. The idea of customizing and interacting with the space plays out in subtle ways. The furniture in each room’s living area can be easily moved to create a unique, personalized space. Every floor encourages students with different creative talents to mingle, collaborate, and learn from one another. Once a student reaches the top of the building, they have an expansive, double-height sky lounge with glazing to the north overlooking South Lake Union. Our design team thoughtfully collaborated with the students to include a community kitchen, outdoor patio, fitness room, gaming and multi-media lounge, fine arts studio, performance practice rooms and full laundry facility into this space.


Planning Story

Celebrating the Urban Rhythm

With the city lacking downtown student housing, we found an opportunity to create a genuine home for University of Arizona students—the first-ever that helps them experience the best parts of college life and urban living. The Cadence celebrates the “urban rhythm” in both design and attitude, and introduces a truly mixed-use, urban project into a city in transition at a key location. Creating a visual gateway into Tucson, this project bookends the main vehicular access point into downtown. The new streetcar line wraps around the gateway corner of the site and runs between the two buildings coming out of downtown proper and heading north towards the University of Arizona campus. New crosswalks and traffic control were negotiated with the city, keeping all pedestrians. Ankrom Moisan developed two parcels, one next to a busy rail line, and the other uniquely shaped. Building on top of an existing parking garage brought student housing to an underused corner of Tucson, allowing the project to reach the maximum unit count and density. The Cadence created a location that is more vibrant, dynamic, and livable for both students and residents of Tucson.


Brand Story

A Stage for Student Creativity

Quickly losing their sense of identity in the rapidly expanding South Lake Union neighborhood, Cornish College was at risk of being dwarfed by their high-rise neighbors. Cornish wanted to stand out in a memorable way, to own their corner, and announce visually "This Is Cornish." But Cornish Commons is also for students, so it needed to balance between being bold and being a space for creativity to shine. It had to be the museum, but not the art. The stage, not the performer. Our approach to the brand centers on the college’s two core concepts: diverse artistic interaction, and a respect for the past while living for today. The best place to start was to design the monumental "CORNISH" sign on the front entryway. It needed to be durable and have a massive scale to match the building. The result are signs that extrude from the concrete, setting the tone for the bold creativity that lives and works inside. The interior signs and environmental graphics use vertical yellow elements that echo the outside. They're modular to provide a flexible wayfinding system.