Working as advisors as much as architects and designers, we knew that successful student housing for Whatcom Community College would need to be a unified, holistic effort—with student programs, architectural planning and thoughtful design all running together—that guides students toward each other and helps them reestablish lost support systems.
We began with a public/private progressive design-build team, funded by state bonds, that comprised experts across industries. Architects, interior designers, landscape architects, outside design consultants, general contractors, estimators, and MEP contractors worked alongside Whatcom Community College leaders, the city of Bellingham, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Gathering design input from students, administrators, and the local community, we conducted workshops, online surveys, meet-and-greet booths, and one-on-one interviews.
And so “cultivating community” became our design concept for Cedar Hall, Whatcom’s new student housing building. We designed the floorplan to intentionally bring students together. Impromptu spaces for interaction abound, from lounge areas between stairways that are great for reading, studying, and hanging out, to the building’s placement on the campus’ south edge, close to the transit station. The upper-level library, and the “grand stair” to it, face east toward Mount Baker and the Cascade Range. The communal heart of Whatcom Community College is the Pod, a double-height shed that glows like a beacon at night and encourages socialization and human connection.
While we designed public spaces and circulation in Cedar Hall meant primarily for interaction, since Whatcom Community College is a school, we also designed opportunities for privacy and study. Students’ units are designed with side-by-side bedrooms facing a shared living room. This unusual unit layout is an outcome of the building’s overall shorter footprint, an intentional decision to maximize the site and hold space for future buildings. Above Cedar Hall’s entry door, three levels of study areas visually reveal the building’s program—from public social interaction to more private academic study.
Finally, our honest, durable material design reflects Whatcom’s agricultural setting. Glulam beams thematically connect Cedar Hall’s exterior structure to its interior and bike shelter. Natural wood flooring runs throughout the building’s halls, shared amenities, and stairways; the exterior is clad with simple yet beautiful brickwork, wood, and metal. Our intention is that life at Cedar Hall should feel connected not only to each other, but to the city of Bellingham, Whatcom County, and the Pacific Northwest. This is a place where students can grow, develop, and thrive with each other.