An expert in the student housing field, Capstone Development Partners hired Ankrom Moisan Architects to design a 20-story building that would reflect the culture of Cornish College of the Arts, a small private college dedicated to the visual and performing arts with two campuses in Seattle. Another goal for the new Cornish Commons building in the downtown South Lake Union neighborhood was to raise the architectural bar of the school’s buildings, since this was the first new one from the ground up since 1921.
The architects organized the façade into three components: base, tower, and top. The base consists of contextual bricks that reference surrounding buildings with a “lantern” effect. The tower adds an iconic symbol that conveys the idealism of artistic craft with its aluminum panels. The top is a 20th-floor sky lounge with student amenities that offers 180-degree views through floor-to-ceiling–glazed walls.
While the building is primarily residential, the first three floors are given over to public areas. The first floor incorporates 2-foot-high glazing to welcome students inside and also provides space for them to display artwork and simply gather. A striking modern staircase leads to the second floor with theater studios; the third floor houses building management offices and staff apartments.
Not only did the building lease up quickly, producing a waiting list; it also became a marketing tool to increase school applications and enrollment. It’s enhanced the Seattle skyline, as well, says Bruce McKee, principal at Capstone and project executive for Cornish Commons.