Orenda and the art of community-inspired design

Maggie Carson photo
By Maggie Carson

Maggie sees the built environment as a way to enhance people’s quality of life. She has over 15 years of experience creating spaces that range from retail and large international mixed-use projects to affordable and market rate residential. She has a passion for complex projects and loves working with clients to bring each unique vision to life.

Orenda is an award-winning workforce housing project in South Seattle’s Othello neighborhood. Adjacent to the Othello light rail station, it stands as more than just a building—it’s a powerful symbol of communal spirit—and it’s easy to see this when you look at its eye-catching design and the community services it holds.

But there’s more to it than that.

If you look closer, you’ll find that every part of Orenda tells a story about the community working together and creating something new. We chatted with project designer and WT Associate Maggie Carson to learn about favorite design details, design inspirations, and the community that make this project so special.

Watch the latest episode of Design Break to learn more:

Unconventional Design Rooted in Community

Orenda doesn’t follow conventional architectural paradigms. It’s designed not merely to blend into its surroundings, but also to reflect and connect with the communities that helped shape its creation.

The commercial base of the building is bold and grounded, with sturdy masonry pillars adorned with art that mirrors the cultural heritage of the area. The warm, glassy main entrance creates a sense of security and well-being, guiding visitors to the corner. This area is marked by an inspiring mural by artist Emily Eisenhart, embodying a sense of joy and uplift.

The Community Canvas

The mural by Eisenhart isn’t just an artwork, it’s a community story. Her collaborative approach to creating this mural involved holding workshops with the neighborhood, inviting members to cut shapes and weave their stories into the artwork. Now, this vibrant mural stands as a narrative of South Seattle, where residents can identify pieces of their own stories.

Innovative Use of Masonry

Orenda’s masonry isn’t just functional—it’s a statement of diversity and character. Constructed using Masonry Units (CMU), the variation in color and size forms an engaging pattern on the building’s exterior, enriching the streetscape in an unexpected way. This eclectic design pays homage to the surrounding immigrant population, incorporating global inspiration and texture.

The Heart of Community Activity

At the heart of the city block, a ‘movement room’ awaits—a jewel box space shielded by woven metal panels. This space is more than just a room; it’s a hub of activity that further enhances the holistic vision of this development as a central gathering space for the surrounding community.

A Testament to Collaboration

Orenda is a powerful proclamation of community, culture, and innovative design. Its uniqueness stems from the vibrant collaboration that lies at its foundation. Orenda serves as a beacon, reminding us that architecture can be more than bricks and mortar—it can reflect the spirit, dreams, and narratives of the people it serves.


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