Common Ground: Collective Living in Seattle, WA


Common Ground: Collective Living in Seattle, WA


Ariel Scholten
University of Washington


Elizabeth Golden & Richard Mohler
University of Washington


JUROR COMMENTS   This concept is awarded for its broad applicability as an urban response in a detached single-family neighborhood of downtown Seattle, of a shared housing solution, and its potential use as a model in other locations. The proposal responded to local demographics current in the area including students, and singles in addition to families, and provided community space in the design sensitive to scale, public-private distinctions and public co-working spaces. The jury also appreciated the distinct graphic style and boards composition. The floor plan is strong and shows a thoughtful use of light coupled with transparency. The differentiation between public and private spaces is very clear, which allows the building to take on both public and private realms in an expansion of the definition of urban living space.


Seattle is one of the fastest growing cities in the US with among the nation’s fastest rising housing costs.  Yet, nearly two thirds of the city’s developable land area is zoned for detached single family dwellings at suburban densities. The Wallingford neighborhood of Seattle, located north of Downtown, is home to families, singles and students, many of whom are long-time Seattle residents. The neighborhood is known for early 20th century craftsman style houses, mixed-use residential zones, and a plethora of parks and schools. The neighborhood is currently dealing with issues of increasing density as well as proposals for upzoning portions of the neighborhood to accommodate multi-family structures, which some residents feel will compromise the scale and character of the neighborhood. At the same time, there has been a demographic shift to a more independent lifestyle, including “settling down” at an older age, among millennials.  This has changed the priorities and living arrangements of singles, with more people living for longer periods of time with non-relatives. A parallel shift towards a live/work lifestyle that allows one to work from home while valuing community and social engagement is also taking place.

Common Ground responds to all of these conditions by providing shared living spaces for its residents and a space for collaboration and engagement for the neighborhood as a whole, while being sensitive to the existing neighborhood context. The proposal is zoned with the most ‘public’ spaces facing the street and the most private facing the alley.   Viewed from the street, Common Ground is of a consistent scale with its neighbors and offers transparency and a welcoming entry to a community co-working space, providing a strong connection to the neighborhood and enhancing the web of community connections. Private suites on the alley provide each resident with a place of refuge and solitude, allowing them a sense of privacy while having direct access to the community. The provision of eight sleeping units also increases the residential density without altering the scale and character of the neighborhood.  Between the community co-working space and the private bedrooms suites are the shared living spaces.  A kitchen, living area, reading room, green house and several outdoor spaces provide an environment for the strengthening of social bonds and wellbeing within the household. They offer areas for enrichment, knowledge, nourishment, relaxation, conversation and connection to nature to provide a framework for a vibrant and supportive household. Connecting the more public and private spaces, the shared living spaces enliven the home and provide a sense of inclusion.

Common Ground is a 21st Century hybrid housing solution that responds to the global crisis of housing affordability, changing household demographics, living/working relationships and a desire to retain existing neighborhood character. It does so in a way that cultivates a strong sense of community for both the household within and the neighborhood outside.