Plymouth on First Hill

Architect:  SMR Architects

Owner:  Plymouth Housing

Location:  Seattle, Washington

Category Four: Housing Accessibility--Alan J. Rothman Award

In Seattle’s First Hill neighborhood, this project focuses on residents and their recovery from the trauma induced by their previously unstable lives. Plymouth on First Hill is the 14th building for Plymouth Housing and provides 80 units for formerly homeless people and live-in staff. Durable, sustainable, and cost-efficient for both developer and resident, the project actively transforms the lives of some of the city’s most vulnerable residents.

Plymouth on First Hill employs the Housing First model, with round-the-clock on-site services and no set rent payment. All residents pay 30 percent of their income as rent, the rest of which is covered by Section 8 housing vouchers. Located just a few blocks from Harborview Medical Center, the project also reduces the reliance on intensive services, namely hospitals and jails, through its agreement with the center to provide on-site medical care, mental health services, and substance abuse treatment. In addition, 30 units are reserved for referrals from the medical center, and the building’s clinical space features an examination room staffed by a medical center nurse 32 hours each week.

The site’s steep slope and unusual shape presented the team with a number of design challenges, which resulted in its concept: a floating box atop a transparent base that emerges directly from the hill. As the slope rolls down Cherry Street to 7th Avenue, the transparency is gradually revealed. At the ground floor, the pedestrian environment is improved with floor-to-ceiling windows. Tenant amenities, such as a kitchen, computer lounge, and case management offices, are also found there. Common rooms can support group and staff meetings and provide direct access to outdoor spaces.

To soften the harsh transition between Interstate 5 and the neighborhood, the team partnered with the First Hill Improvement Association to plant cherry trees and improve the landscape along Cherry Street’s 20 percent grade. Seating along the slope also provides spots for respite and eases the climb for pedestrians. As a whole, the exterior has greatly enhanced the neighborhood and serves as its newest gateway.

Additional information

Associate Architect: N/A

Consultant: N/A

Engineer - Civil: Decker Consulting Engineers

Engineer - MEP: Glumac

Engineer - Structural: I.L. Gross Structural Engineers

General Contractor: Walsh Construction Co.

Landscape Architect: Fazio Associates

Acoustic Engineer: SSA Acoustics


Emily Roush-Elliott, AIA (Chair), Delta Design Build Workshop, Greenwood, Mississippi

Valarie D. Franklin, AIA, Moody Nolan,  Nashville, Tennessee

Michael E. Willis, FAIA, Oakland, California

Guido Hartray, AIA, Marvel Architects, New York, NY

S. Claire Conroy, Sola Group, Inc., Chicago, IL

Eileen Faulkner, Housing and Urban Development, Washington, DC

Regina Gray, Housing and Urban Development, Washington, DC

Image credits

Plymouth on First Hill-06

William Wright Photography

Plymouth on First Hill-03

William Wright Photography

Plymouth on First Hill-04

William Wright Photography

Plymouth on First Hill-05

William Wright Photography

Plymouth on First Hill-07

William Wright Photography