Historical

2031 N Watts St

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  Building Data:  Neighborhood: Kenton Year Built: 1927 Typology: Hybrid Court Units: 12 Stories: 2 Site Area: 10,000sf Building Area: 9,296sf FAR: 0.9:1 Density: 52.3 du/net acre Zoning: R5 (1du/5000sf of site area) Is it Legal? NO

Building Data:
Neighborhood: Kenton
Year Built: 1927
Typology: Hybrid Court
Units: 12
Stories: 2
Site Area: 10,000sf
Building Area: 9,296sf
FAR: 0.9:1
Density: 52.3 du/net acre
Zoning: R5 (1du/5000sf of site area)
Is it Legal? NO


2031 N Watts St. is a rare and unusual form of hybrid court, with wings of townhouse units flanking an end bar of four stacked flats. Each unit has its own exterior front door leading to the courtyard. We were quite surprised when we looked this one up on Portland Maps and discovered it was constructed in 1927. The building’s exterior, windows and doors, as well as courtyard paving and landscaping appear to have been installed less than ten years ago. The overall impression of the exterior overhaul makes the building a bit austere, compared to an unaltered 1920s specimen, but it’s still a nicely proportioned, human scaled place.

This building has no off-street parking. With 100’ of street frontage, there is room for 5 cars to park in front on the street.

We’d like to see more new residential projects take this form. The tricky part is making a small rental that is profitable given high land and construction costs. If this were for sale as condo, the project would pencil out, but we haven’t seen may examples of developers willing to risk developing for sale housing without off-street parking.


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3801 SE Morrison

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  Building Data:  Neighborhood: Sunnyside Year Built: 1953 Typology: Courtyard/Hybrid Court Units: 12 Stories: 2 Site Area: 15,000sf Building Area: 9,742 FAR: 0.53:1 Density: 35 du/net acre Zoning: R2.5 (1 Dwelling/2,500sf) Is it Legal? NO

Building Data:
Neighborhood: Sunnyside
Year Built: 1953
Typology: Courtyard/Hybrid Court
Units: 12
Stories: 2
Site Area: 15,000sf
Building Area: 9,742
FAR: 0.53:1
Density: 35 du/net acre
Zoning: R2.5 (1 Dwelling/2,500sf)
Is it Legal? NO

This is our first case study of a hybrid-court. The name refers to the fact that it’s configured as a combination of the traditional single story U-shaped courtyard, with a two story bar connecting the side wings. Some hybrid courts combine townhouse units with single level flats in the wings. This example, located in SE Portland’s Sunnyside neighborhood, is entirely flats. The two story bar resembles a pair of walk-up four-plexes placed side-by-side. Each group of four flats are served by a single front entry to a hallway with a stair leading to the upper units.

  Traditional site design; stoop and green space

Traditional site design; stoop and green space

This courtyard building takes advantage of its corner site on a triple lot to provide below-grade parking all along the street facing side and below the fronts of the two wings on the front street side. The fact that it’s a triple width lot ensures that these garages, while less than ideal, still don’t really dominate the front of the project. The elevated courtyard creates semi private shared outdoor space for the units, and all apartments have windows on at least two sides.

Examining the site plan, one could see how this could be adapted to a double lot, by eliminating a chunk of the back bar and sliding the wings closer together, resulting in an 8 unit building, at the same net density, but on a smaller site.

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1309 N Killingsworth St

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Building Data:
Neighborhood: Overlook
Year Built: 1943
Typology: Courtyard Apartment
Units: 9
Stories: 1
Site Area: 10,000sf
Building Area: 5,327
FAR: 0.53:1
                                                                                         Density: 39.2 du/net acre
                                                                                         Zoning: CM2 (no max density, 45’ height)
                                                                                         Is it Legal? YES

  Back doors of units along east wing

Back doors of units along east wing

1309 N Killingworth represents the courtyard apartment typology in its simplest, most basic form. (As we will see, there are many variants on this typology) The building is a single-story, u-shaped bungalow courtyard with the open end facing the street. The individual apartments’ front doors face the courtyard and access the street via the shared space. All units are through-units, meaning they have at least two window-walls, front and back. End units have three. All units also have a front and a back door.

  Courtyard and main entries

Courtyard and main entries

The courtyard is the dominant feature of this building type. It provides a shared semi-private open space that is set apart from the public realm of the sidewalk. This case study building is not set very high off the ground plane, and the landscaping is somewhat uninspired, but other examples can be found where the grade shift to the courtyard, and landscaping make a clearer transition between the street and create an enjoyable shared courtyard.

A feature that many residents enjoy is the fact that their units open directly into the open air, and not a shared hallway, making living here more like the experience of a house and less like a more anonymous apartment building. We will post more case studies exploring the many variants on the courtyard building and their advantages and disadvantages.

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332 NE 22nd

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  Building Data:  Neighborhood: Kerns Year Built: 1924 Typology: Plex / Two Story / House format Units: 4 Stories: 2 Site Area: 5,000sf Building Area: 3,600sf FAR: 0.72:1 Zoning: R1 Is it Legal? YES

Building Data:
Neighborhood: Kerns
Year Built: 1924
Typology: Plex / Two Story / House format
Units: 4
Stories: 2
Site Area: 5,000sf
Building Area: 3,600sf
FAR: 0.72:1
Zoning: R1
Is it Legal? YES

This lot’s zoning could in fact accommodate one more unit. R1 allows 1 unit per 1000sf of site area, and this is a fourplex on a 5000sf lot. The building even has a detached 2 car garage to the side (potential adu on top?).

Note the fact that the front of the building faces the long side of the corner lot. As we saw in the previous post, there are unique advantages to corner lots for small multifamily buildings. By taking advantage of a double length frontage, a building can maintain a proportional relationship with the street that is pretty comparable to that of a single family house on a standard mid block lot. An additional advantage to corners is the amount of curb frontage for on-street parking. There is easily enough room for 5-6 cars to park on around this building, whereas on a mid-block lot there would only be frontage for two. Corners can thus mitigate some of the burden on this scarce resource.

Coming in at slightly less than 900sf each, these are very generous apartments. They could conceivably house a small family consisting of a couple with one child in each unit. That’s not quite as far fetched as it might sound either; the first post-war suburban tract homes in Levittown were as small as 750sf!

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4017 NE Rodney

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  Building Data:  Neighborhood: Boise Year Built: 1911 Typology: Duplex-Stacked Units: 2 Stories: 2 Site Area: 5,000sf Building Area: 2,472sf FAR: 0.5:1 Density: 17.5 du/net acre Zoning: 1 (1du/5000sf of site area) Is it Legal? YES

Building Data:
Neighborhood: Boise
Year Built: 1911
Typology: Duplex-Stacked
Units: 2
Stories: 2
Site Area: 5,000sf
Building Area: 2,472sf
FAR: 0.5:1
Density: 17.5 du/net acre
Zoning: 1 (1du/5000sf of site area)
Is it Legal? YES

2017-2018 NE Rodney is an excellent example of the classic stacked duplex typology. While this one appears to have been constructed as a duplex, many of Portland’s stacked duplexes were the result of conversions. Many of these conversions occurred during WWII when the city was experiencing a severe housing shortage due to the influx of war industry workers. Note that unlike today, the newcomers were, by and large, blue collar workers.

This type of duplex has trade offs. The ground floor unit has more access to the yard than the top unit, but in many cases, a usable attic is available to the second floor. Sound transmission through the floor can be an issue. On the upside, the floor plans are pleasant and efficient, with much less space wasted on redundant circulation. We’d wager these units’ interiors are pretty similar to single story bungalows of the same era. Additionally, the shared yard and shared entry facilitate community.

 Contemporary side-by-side duplex.

Contemporary side-by-side duplex.

Very few of these seem to get built today. In fact, we have located only one contemporary stacked duplex thus far. Developers seem to favor side-by-side duplexes. These can be sold as single family attached houses, which are an easier deal for small unsophisticated builders who do not want to build and hold. They are also easier to park.  

 Site Plan

Site Plan

 

2022 NE 8th

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  Building Data:  Neighborhood: Irvington Year Built: 1949 Typology: Duplex/Cryptoplex Units: 2 Stories: 1 Site Area: 5,000sf Building Area: 2,476sf FAR: 0.5:1 Density: 17.5 du/net acre Zoning: 1 (1du/5000sf of site area) Is it Legal? YES

Building Data:
Neighborhood: Irvington
Year Built: 1949
Typology: Duplex/Cryptoplex
Units: 2
Stories: 1
Site Area: 5,000sf
Building Area: 2,476sf
FAR: 0.5:1
Density: 17.5 du/net acre
Zoning: 1 (1du/5000sf of site area)
Is it Legal? YES

Introducing the cryptoplex! As the name implies, this is a stealth duplex. Viewed head-on, this appears to be a very ordinary cottage-vernacular single family home. Step to the side, and you’ll see a second front door, perpendicular to the one seen from the front. The two entries share a common approach and front porch. On paper, this duplex is pretty indistinguishable from the twin house we profiled a couple weeks ago. Its stealthy nature is a unique design feature, and we feel it warrants its own sub-species classification in our housing taxonomy as a result. We’ve located three of these so far, but we suspect there are many more, hiding in plain sight.

 Oblique view showing door placement.

Oblique view showing door placement.

 

There are other approaches to the cryptoplex, which we’ll explore later, but note for now, that this one, by virtue of main entry location, maximizes interaction between tenants and fosters community.

 Cryptoplex Layouts. Case study house left. Portland development code standard with separated entries right.

Cryptoplex Layouts. Case study house left. Portland development code standard with separated entries right.

The Portland development code has encouraged duplexes in corner lots in all residential zones for some time now. However, the code standards require entries on perpendicular faces. On the positive side, this policy activates both facades, and ensures that buildings don’t turn their backs on one of the street frontages. The downside is that it misses an opportunity to create community. On mid-block sites, the latter seems like a win-win. As more of the city gets upzoned to multifamily, this approach is worth exploring and potentially codifying in our zoning code.

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