Photo of Vi Hilbert Hall at Seattle University
Photo of Vi Hilbert Hall at Seattle University
Photo of Vi Hilbert Hall at Seattle University
Photo of Vi Hilbert Hall at Seattle University
Photo of Vi Hilbert Hall at Seattle University
Photo of Vi Hilbert Hall at Seattle University

Vi Hilbert Hall at Seattle University

A Virtual Reality Design Approach

Located in the heart of Capitol Hill, the Jesuit Catholic Seattle University is rapidly growing year after year. To help this private university accommodate new student housing and offices that match both their urban campus and their Jesuit culture of personal reflection, we designed a student-focused (and focused-students) program for Vi Hilbert Hall. Tailored for efficiency, informed by meetings with students and staff, and developed rapidly using VR models, our elegant design fits 307 beds on eight floors for upper-level and graduate students. Units range from four-bedroom to studio apartments, and student lounges throughout are designed for multiple uses, from private study to group gatherings. Materially and architecturally, our design reflects Seattle University’s campus, with durable, natural materials like wood, concrete, brick, and steel both inside and out. Our hope is that Vi Hilbert Hall consciously reflects cura personalis: the cornerstone Jesuit principle of caring for the whole person, mind, body, and spirit.

Seattle, Washington
  • 127 units, 307 beds
  • 10 stories
  • Completed in 2018

Student Housing , Classroom and Office


Architecture: Michael DiBiase

Interiors: Karen Bowery

Architecture Story

Inspired by Jesuit Philosophy

Early in our design research on Jesuit pedagogy for Seattle University’s Vi Hilbert Hall, we learned about “eloquentia perfecta”—a concept that hinges on using reason to express yourself. Through reason and cyclical reflection, our design came to balance the critical requirements of a high bed count with the other programmatic and student study area needs. This balance was made possible by the trust of our clients and the mutual focus on the student residents. These student residences are tailored for efficiency, comfort, and livability. From studios to four-bedrooms, they feature modern built-ins and modular kitchens with maximized natural ventilation and daylight. Space, light, and materiality were our other design principles. In the entryway, expansive two-story windows invite students, staff, and visitors to Vi Hilbert Hall. It also contains an homage to the building’s namesake—a tribal elder of the Upper Skagit tribe who worked to preserve her culture’s language. After dark, the entryway transforms into a beacon of light and warmth, so essential during Seattle’s long, dark winter nights. The lounge area is designed as a free-flowing space, perfect for commuters, and a big shared kitchen on allows students meet up for communal meals. On a smaller scale, student lounges accommodate private studying and group gatherings. Throughout the design process, virtual reality was an essential part of efficient problem-solving. After mocking up spaces and finishes in VR models, we were able to virtually walk stakeholders through our design, identifying and solving problems more quickly and completely than traditional renderings allow. On the exterior, metal panels in differing shades of grey change tones when sunlight strikes them. As the sun moves across the sky, these exterior panels dynamically shift in appearance. Overall, natural, durable materials are essential to this; brick, wood, concrete, and steel are referenced throughout, including building configurations from the school’s existing masterplan, making sure Vi Hilbert Hall fits into Seattle University’s style and culture.


Interior Story

Student-Centered Design

Cura personalis aims to develop a more focused student than the stereotypical American college student, so we centered our design on the student experience: To engage through active, community-led collaborative spaces; to support reflection through simple, sustainable materials and balanced, thoughtful design expressions; and to inspire. Our design research began by studying the Jesuit style of teaching. In this tradition, we learned, after a person takes some action, they should reflect upon it. Thus our strongly student-focused design concept creates the study spaces so critical to this cyclical pattern of act, reflect, evaluate, and act again. Meeting Seattle University’s specific Housing and Residence Life goals, our team meticulously developed a program to accommodate 286 beds. Student lounges on each floor are perfect for both private study and group gatherings. Each residence is tailored for efficiency, from studio to four-bedroom, and include modern built-ins and modular kitchens while maximizing natural ventilation and daylight. Throughout Vi Hilbert Hall, durable and natural materials—wood, concrete, brick, steel—warmly balance more modern design elements. Because Vi Hilbert Hall is at the center of so much pedestrian activity—notably, the bookstore and financial aid offices are nearby—we designed the ground-floor lounge as an easy-to-navigate, open, inviting space for resident and commuter students, staff, and visitors. Inside the lobby stands a memorial to Vi Hilbert, the building’s namesake and tribal elder of the Upper Skagit tribe, last heritage speaker of Lushootseed, and teacher-conservationist of her native language. A grand staircase, wrapped in durable and warm-toned hickory, draws the eye upward to an open balcony. The warmth and subtle tones of this space reflects the school colors and feels bright, comfortable, and homey, especially at night. On the top floor, a big, open kitchen provides a gathering space for the community to come together to cook, dine, and socialize. Virtual reality was an essential tool to help us efficiently solve problems. Mocking up materials selections in VR models took a little longer than traditional presentations, but by virtually walking client stakeholders through our design, we were able to much more quickly and completely refine our designs. We are proud to provide housing to a school whose mission is dedicated to empowering leaders for a more just and humane world.