Historical

2120-2128 NE 12TH

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Building Data:  Neighborhood: Irvington Year Built: 1931 Typology: Cryptoplex Units: 7 Stories: 2 Site Area: 5,000sf Building Area: 3,524 FAR: 0.70:1 Parking: On street Density: 60.9 du/net acre Zoning: R1 (1 Dwelling/1,000sf) Is it Legal? NO (but almost!)

Building Data:
Neighborhood: Irvington
Year Built: 1931
Typology: Cryptoplex
Units: 7
Stories: 2
Site Area: 5,000sf
Building Area: 3,524
FAR: 0.70:1
Parking: On street
Density: 60.9 du/net acre
Zoning: R1 (1 Dwelling/1,000sf)
Is it Legal? NO (but almost!)


Notes:

We’re going to call this odd but wonderful little building a “megacryptoplex” because like other cryptoplexes, it looks like a single family dwelling, yet it houses not two, but seven(!) separate dwelling units. At a net density of nearly 61 du/ac, this building packs a lot of housing in a very unobtrusive, neighborhood scaled package. Moreover, it does so at a fairly low FAR of 0.7:1.


Viewed from the street, the building presents as a one and a half story cottage. The front door provides access to two mirrored side-by-side units on the ground floor, while a stair leads to an attic unit. The other four units are reached from a friendly looking communal side yard. The building gets wider in steps, with the projections providing several street facing main entries to the back units.  

Detail showing side-loading units.

Detail showing side-loading units.

This axon view represents our best guess of the internal configuration of the building. It’s actually a testament to its subtle design that it is not readily apparent how the interior is partitioned when looking at the building from outside.

Axonometric diagram

Axonometric diagram

Axonometric aerial from Google Earth

Axonometric aerial from Google Earth

In our experience, this building is unique in Portland. It most closely resembles a one-and-a-half wing courtyard segment, but even then, its stacked configuration has no analog in any other typology we have documented. This building exceeds the density in the R1 zone, but we can envision several code hacks in which it could legally be replicated.

Site Plan

Site Plan

 

705 E Cherry Street, Seattle, WA

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Building Data:  Neighborhood: Central District, Seattle Year Built: 1925 Typology: Courtyard Apartment Units: 12 Stories: 1 Site Area: 15,646sf Building Area: 8,200 FAR: 0.53:1 Density: 34.8 du/net acre Zoning: LR2 RC: Lowrise 2 Residential/Commercial Is it Legal? YES

Building Data:
Neighborhood: Central District, Seattle
Year Built: 1925
Typology: Courtyard Apartment
Units: 12
Stories: 1
Site Area: 15,646sf
Building Area: 8,200
FAR: 0.53:1
Density: 34.8 du/net acre
Zoning: LR2 RC: Lowrise 2 Residential/Commercial
Is it Legal? YES

Until now we’ve presented only Portland case studies, but having lived in this wonderful Seattle building, I feel compelled to present it to you. This 1920s courtyard building is located at 24th and Cherry in Seattle’s Central District. This building exemplifies the best qualities of the courtyard format, and takes some steps to mitigate some of its downsides.

Courtyard and main entries

Courtyard and main entries

The grade separation of the courtyard from the sidewalk on the gently sloping lot allows for some additional security and privacy for residents. This building’s owner has really outdone himself with the landscaping, creating a Tuscan garden complete with a six foot high cast iron fountain. In a fairly typical arrangement, the building was constructed with a line of garages facing the side street. One of these has been converted into a laundry room with storefront glazing. The owner has rented the remaining garages to microbusinesses, including a letter press, a community supported agriculture distributor, a wooden canoe builder and a kombucha brewer. The basement of the building, which occupies the space beneath the end of the U is occupied by a makers space coop, which also has its wood shop and metal shop in two of the garages.

Side view with garages (now used for micro-businesses) and entry to basement makerspace.

Side view with garages (now used for micro-businesses) and entry to basement makerspace.

Site plan

Site plan

 

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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1309 Killingsworth Axon.jpg

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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