Samish Commons

ClientBellingham Housing Authority
LocationBellingham, WA
Awards Best in Multifamily Design, Habitat for Humanity International, 2024, Honor Award, AIA Northwest Washington, 2023
StatsEvergreen Sustainable Development Standards
HighlightsMulti-family Housing, Affordable Housing, Workforce Housing, Townhomes, Urban Village, Mixed-use, Green Space, Pedestrian Friendly, Bicycle Friendly, Evergreen Sustainable Development Standards

The development of the former Aloha Motel site on Samish Way was part of the City of Bellingham’s vision to transform this austere section of the neighborhood into an urban village. An urban village’s primary goal is to become less automobile focused by adding residential and mixed-use buildings, green spaces, and other features that accommodate pedestrians and bicycles. In 2017, Bellingham Housing Authority (BHA) purchased the site and hired RMC to help them make this vision into a reality.

The project has a total of 171 affordable apartment units over three buildings, including a building for seniors and one for families. There is also 11,000 square feet of commercial space for BHA’s new office and a forthcoming early learning childcare center.

The three-bedroom townhomes with private courtyards were placed to lend an approachable, street-friendly appeal. The spacious entry to the adjacent main building provides a warm greeting to residents and is composed of a place for mail and a living room, encouraging neighborly conversations. A vertical glass tower brings daylight into all four floors of the building and illuminates the open stairs that link them, while visually connecting the main floor spaces. Siting the building to meet the street provided an opportunity to shield the parking structure by wrapping the building around it, adhering to urban village goals.

Residential interiors meet a tight budget without sacrificing aesthetics. Oversized windows bring in natural light, provide generous views, and give the rooms a spacious feel. The project meets Evergreen Sustainable Development Standards for health and safety, durability, sustainable living, and energy and water efficiency.

BHA’s new office building wraps around the triangular site, bridging the housing and commercial spaces. A well-lit, double height entry flanked by glazing gives a public face and presence to BHA’s new home. The Cross-laminated Timber (CLT) structure, topped by a roof garden, consists of an open office floor plan in addition to private, executive offices and meeting rooms on both levels.

For the seven-story Senior Housing building, commercial and community spaces make up the first two floors. A spacious, double-height lobby with large, human scale windows lends an open, cheerful vibe to the space and reinforces the connection between residents and the neighborhood.

A large conference room, small conference room, and fitness and computer room are also located on the first floor. A space allocated for BHA’s future office expansion is on the second floor, with the one- and two-bedroom residential units beginning on the third floor. A light-filled common area lounge greets seniors and offers views of the podium courtyard, as well as access to the outdoor space.

The five-story Family Housing building’s grand entry with a vertical glass tower encourages integration between the interior and exterior spaces. The kitchen in the community room on the first floor offers opportunities for residents to have larger family functions, birthday parties, and other celebrations. The space opens directly to the courtyard, with picnic tables and barbecues available for outdoor parties.

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