Photo of UW Mercer Court
Photo of UW Mercer Court
Photo of UW Mercer Court
Photo of UW Mercer Court
Photo of UW Mercer Court
Photo of UW Mercer Court

UW Mercer Court

Innovative Student Housing at University of Washington

The University of Washington is nearing the completion of its multi-year long term plan to expand, replace and upgrade the majority of their on-campus student housing, much of it built 30 - 50 years ago. The expansion was a key strategy to ensure the growing university could enable more students to live on campus, where studies have undergraduates perform better academically and stay enrolled longer. Mercer Court was an integral part of the masterplan as it brought 900 beds to a very underutilized site at the southwestern edge of the campus.

Seattle, Washington
  • 237 units, 930 beds
  • 8 stories
  • 552,000 sq. ft.
  • Completed in 2013

Student Housing


Architecture: Mack Selberg

Interiors: Karen Bowery

Architecture Story

The Campus Connection

Mercer Court is a five-building, 900-bed student residence on UW’s West campus that overlooks Portage Bay. Because of its separation from main campus, Ankrom Moisan worked together with Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios to create an active community-focused design that connects and strengthens the entire campus fabric. One of the first financial challenges was to address the large excavation left by the basement of the original Mercer Court. With an expertise in value engineering, we turned the obstacle into an opportunity for environmental stewardship. The below-grade space became the largest stormwater cistern on a university campus in the country at the time. Rainwater captured on each building roof is piped to the tank where it’s treated and stored for reuse. By providing nearly all the water for the building’s laundry facility, the cistern saves an estimated 627,000 gallons of potable city water each year. Each of the five buildings are placed to celebrate views of the bay and offer the most daylight for units and courtyard spaces. Windows flare outward, so even though the buildings are oriented perpendicular to the bay, many rooms have views out to the water. Resembling an open hand, four fingers extend toward the bay as the fifth runs along the Burke-Gilman recreational trail, anchoring the project with an active pedestrian edge. The main plaza is the palm of the hand, a central gathering and event space for concerts, student rallies, and farmers’ markets with produce harvested directly from site’s 3/4-acre, year-round working urban farm. The buildings not only offer views of the bay, their identity and form are inspired by it. The dark earth-tone clinker brick of the base makes a waterline on the steep site and the large-scale metal of the cladding of the facades fold and reflect like ripples of water. Five levels of efficiently framed wood offer maximum insulation atop three levels of concrete. Their stacked and staggered massing recalls the topology of the surrounding hills and shoreline. Together, the buildings of Mercer Court mediate the space between land and the bay. Mercer Court sets the tone for a new chapter in the history of the University of Washington. With four types of student apartments, an active urban farm, a coffee shop and roaster, outdoor plaza, and intimate seating areas throughout—the addition provides dynamic opportunities for students to connect with friends, meet new people, and begin their collegiate journey fully immersed.


Interior Story

Supporting Community, One Individual at a Time

The view within a kaleidoscope is comprised of individual elements that create a larger, more complex scene of shapes and colors. The individual elements continually move and reflect causing the overall scene to continually transform. Community is composed of individual people who are continually moving, reflecting, and interacting; with the constant change of people comes the constant transformation of the community. This design concept translates into the larger scale programming of Mercer Court all the way down to the small details of the finish materials. The interiors are a kaleidoscope of individual, vibrant spaces that together form cohesive opportunities that support the students’ daily need to explore new ideas, gather, and rejuvenate in varying ways. Mercer Court is comprised of five buildings with the Husky Grind Café positioned at the “front door” of the main building, where students can grab coffee as they come and go from campus. The highly active main building acts as the hearth with a strong connection to the plaza and courtyards that weave the buildings together. Inside, a two-story great room is a social anchor, complete with a variety of ways for residents to engage. One of the key ideas relating to the concept is creating space within space that allows for varying levels of interaction and learning. The game area, tv lounge, kitchen, and dining spaces radiate from the double height fireplace in the great room. Study nooks, on the second level, are slightly removed from the action, allowing for voyeurism and impromptu interactions below. The buildings are designed to create a sense of community at a variety of scales. Music rooms, large enclosed study rooms, and open study areas off the lobbies have visual connections with the active plaza, courtyards, and entry arcades. Rooftop study lounges offer students another perspective with the spectacular views of the bay and skyline. The composition of the residential units range from studios to six-bedroom apartments. The multi-bedroom apartments included a shared living, dining, and kitchen. The six-bedroom apartment is unique in that all bedrooms have ensuite facilities, which allow residents to mingle with their roommates or rejuvenate in their own private space. Along with the views and the spatial relationships, finish materials are reminiscent of a kaleidoscope. The fireplace has end-grain wood cladding, each small piece is naturally unique and creates an interesting montage. Within the layered glass railing system are fragmented glass pieces that reflect light in different angles. Other finishes include fragmented elements and strong colors such as the carpet pattern, furniture forms, fabrics, and glass partitions with colored, translucent graphics. Lobbies have back-lit, glowing, colored glass panels. The fragments and colors were integrated into the signage throughout the site down to the individual apartment signage. The interiors at Mercer Court support students as individuals and as a collective, from the active gathering areas to the quiet, reflective spaces. The strong community here in turn strengths the University of Washington as a whole.