Missing Middle

2701 SE Clinton St.

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Building Data:  Neighborhood: Hosford-Abernethy Year Built: 2014 Typology: Walk-up Apartment Building Units: 12 Stories: 3 Site Area: 10,000sf Building Area: 8,825 FAR: 0.88:1 Density: 52.3 du/net acre Zoning: R2 (1 Dwelling/2000sf)Is it Legal? Apparently

Building Data:
Neighborhood: Hosford-Abernethy
Year Built: 2014
Typology: Walk-up Apartment Building
Units: 12
Stories: 3
Site Area: 10,000sf
Building Area: 8,825
FAR: 0.88:1
Density: 52.3 du/net acre
Zoning: R2 (1 Dwelling/2000sf)Is it Legal? Apparently

We were very excited to find this new building a block north of SE 2th and Clinton. 2701 SE Clinton is a 12 unit walk-up apartment building with four units per floor. It is an L-shaped building on a corner (double) lot with two wings parallel to the street sides. Access to upper units is provided by a shared stairway on the inside of the L, with exterior walkways leading to the upper units. Because of this configuration, it is very efficient, with most of the building area used for units instead of circulation. Additionally, every unit has at least two exterior facing walls. End units have three.

This building represents the lower bound of the “apartment” typology. Smaller buildings with fewer units are usually subsumed within the typology of “plex.” The boxy form, flat roof and brick cladding clearly say “apartment building.”

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Architecturally, this is a terrific design, with clean rigorous symmetry, quality materials, intentional façade composition and a terrific relationship to the street.  Ground floor units feature stoops and semi-private terraces. These are accommodated by a setback of approximately 8-10’ from the street lot lines. This sort of buffer is very valuable for making ground floor units tolerable by creating some privacy for occupants. Additionally, they integrate the building with its surroundings by mimicking the form and function of its neighbors. The project was designed by local architect Hillary Mackenzie.

Neighboring Stoops

Neighboring Stoops

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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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2502-2524 NE 11th

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Building Data:  Neighborhood: Irvington Year Built: 1931 Typology: Courtyard Apartment Units: 10 Stories: 1+ Site Area: 10,000sf  Building Area: 6,086sf FAR: 0.6:1 Density: 43.5 du/net acre Zoning: R5 (1 Dwelling/5,000sf) Is it Legal? NO

Building Data:
Neighborhood: Irvington
Year Built: 1931
Typology: Courtyard Apartment
Units: 10
Stories: 1+
Site Area: 10,000sf
Building Area: 6,086sf
FAR: 0.6:1
Density: 43.5 du/net acre
Zoning: R5 (1 Dwelling/5,000sf)
Is it Legal? NO

This courtyard project in Irvington is a fine specimen of the courtyard typology and illustrates one of its common variants. Like most bungalow courtyards, the project is configured in a U-shape with the open end facing the street. This example illustrates a common adaptation of the courtyard when built on a corner lot; the sloping site and side access allows a row of garages beneath the side street-facing wing. This is in very common in 1920s courtyard buildings on corner sites. Additionally, the end of the wing on the corner accommodates a bonus unit. This is possible since the basement level is at street grade here. The main level wings have three units each for a total of nine. The downside to this arrangement is a large blank wall at street level and a long linear curb cut. This creates a less than ideal streetscape.



Elevated courtyard provides privacy and transitional space

Elevated courtyard provides privacy and transitional space

Basement bonus unit

Basement bonus unit

Garages, with catwalk for unit back doors above

Garages, with catwalk for unit back doors above

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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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