Contemporary

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 12th 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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3955-3957 NE Mallory

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Building Data:  Neighborhood: Boise Year Built: 2017 Typology: Townhouse/Duplex Units: 2 Stories: 3 Site Area: 5,000sf Building Area: 3,882 FAR: 0.53:1 Density: 17.5 du/net acre Zoning: R2.5a (1 Dwelling/2500sf) Is it Legal? YES

Building Data:
Neighborhood: Boise
Year Built: 2017
Typology: Townhouse/Duplex
Units: 2
Stories: 3
Site Area: 5,000sf
Building Area: 3,882
FAR: 0.53:1
Density: 17.5 du/net acre
Zoning: R2.5a (1 Dwelling/2500sf)
Is it Legal? YES

This townhouse-type duplex was completed less than a year ago, and is one in a row of 4 identical duplexes, totaling 8 units. These are fee simple townhouses, meaning that the original single family lots were divided down the middle into two 25’ X 100’ lots with a common wall dividing the properties. This type of development appears to be the most common use of the R2.5 zone, which allows 1 dwelling per 2500sf of land area. All units have a garage occupying much of the lower level, with the main levels floating above the ground plane, demonstrating a phenomenon we have been calling the floor is lava.

At the ground level, instead of stoops, yards and front porches, we have a large paved area, occupied by vehicles. Each duplex pair shares a curb cut.

These houses were constructed on the site where four single-family houses were demolished, in what was, until recently, a primarily African American community. According to city records, one of these units sold earlier this year for precisely $1M, so while adding housing may help home prices in the aggregate, at block and neighborhood level, we wouldn’t expect any relief from gentrification from this type of development – in fact, quite the reverse!

Row of 4 identical townhome-duplex structures (8 units)

Row of 4 identical townhome-duplex structures (8 units)

We selected this project for a case study to illustrate the tendencies of the market at present, and thus illustrate the likely outcome of upzones without additional controls on building form. The City’s Residential Infill Project says very little about building design, and we believe it is worth noting that without the addition of such controls, projects of this type will likely become much more ubiquitous in our neighborhoods. You’ll pardon our cynicism when we roll our eyes at blandishments such as “Duplexes are beautiful.” Well, some are but those tend to be historic examples, built before a time when accommodating automobiles was a primary driver of building and site design. So be careful what you wish for.

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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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22-30 NE Beech

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Building Data:  Neighborhood: Boise Year Built: 2015 Typology: Townhouse/Duplex Units: 2 Stories: 2+ Site Area: 5,000sf Building Area: 3,882 FAR: 0.53:1 Density: 17.5 du/net acre Zoning: R2.5a (1 Dwelling/2,500sf) Is it Legal? YES

Building Data:
Neighborhood: Boise
Year Built: 2015
Typology: Townhouse/Duplex
Units: 2
Stories: 2+
Site Area: 5,000sf
Building Area: 3,882
FAR: 0.53:1
Density: 17.5 du/net acre
Zoning: R2.5a (1 Dwelling/2,500sf)
Is it Legal? YES

The side-by-side duplex with garages below units is the modern day cousin of the twin-house duplex. Unlike its historical precedents, the modern twin house is dominated by parking and is not a rental but sold as a townhouse. This example was constructed three years ago adjacent to the Vancouver/Williams corridor. The land is zoned R2.5, or one dwelling per 2500 square feet of lot. In this zone, development typically takes the form of a builder purchasing and demolishing a low value house, partitioning the lot down the middle and erecting this type of duplex, with a shared common wall on the new lot line.

The market and the building industry’s preference for secure, off-street parking and the ease of selling a building, rather than holding it as a rental explains its difference from pre-war duplexes. The horizontally separated twin-house format makes fee simple partition and sale relatively easy (as opposed to condominiumization of a stacked duplex), and it also makes it easy for each unit to have its own garage with direct access.

Traditional site design; stoop and green space

Traditional site design; stoop and green space

Individually, there is nothing inherently bad with this building, but we believe the cumulative impact of redeveloping neighborhoods with these parking-forward structures is undesirable. The social and environmental benefits of front porches, stoops and small green spaces in front of dwellings have been well documented by the New Urbanist movement, and those factors lead the City of Portland to end the practice of “snout-house” building two decades ago.

Like our NE Mallory case study, this building represents a typology that is likely to proliferate if the proposed Residential Infill Project is not modified to address aspects of building design and typology.

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Creston Lofts - 2860 SE Gladstone

Building Data:
Neighborhood: Creston Kennilworth
Year Built: 2014
Typology: Mixed Use Multi-Building / Walkup with townhome units
Units: 19 (+ commercial spaces)
Stories: 3
Site Area: 10,000sf
Lot Coverage: 69%
Building Area: 16,000sf (est.)
FAR: 1.6:1
Density: 82 du/net acre
Zoning: CN 1 (Neighborhood Commercial)

Three axonometric views above indicate the rather complex arrangement of this project. Blue indicates commercial tenants.

Projects like this give some hope for the future of our built environment. Creston Lofts is a three building mixed-use project in the Creston Kennilworth neighborhood of Southeast Portland, about half a mile north of Reed College. The building is a complex mix of unit types, including studio, 1 bed lofts, two bedroom units and live-work spaces. The project is anchored by the corner building, which features a restaurant on the ground floor. Facing the courtyard is a semi sunken unit with a loft. Steps lead up to a shared deck at the second level, which gives access to three studios and three generous one-bed units. This arrangement resembles dwelling types we’ve seen in Scandinavia on our travels.

The Eastern building is a stack of lofted spaces. Two live work units and one lofted one-bed are entered from the ground, and the upper level contains two-story two bed units. These units have their living spaces at the top, to maximize views.

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The central courtyard is more than a means of access or a leftover negative space between buildings. It is the heart of the project, providing semi private communal open space. A large Japanese maple dominates the space, and given its size and maturity, appears to have been preserved from the site’s previous use as two homes.

Obviously, the building’s styling will have some fans and some detractors, but regardless of how one feels about the visual composition, one could hardly find a more carefully crafted, human scaled project, blending different kinds of living spaces with places for small businesses. The small scale of the buildings is eminently appropriate for the context; its buildings are slightly larger in scale than the homes to the south, as is appropriate on minor neighborhood business corridors. A frequent complaint about new development stems from the major scalar shift between existing fabric and the new addition. This project’s scale is only one order of magnitude larger than its neighbors, not several as is sometimes the case. We believe adding buildings like this are a much better way to add density in our established neighborhoods.

Trastevere, Rome

Trastevere, Rome

The multiple building masses and shared spaces blend the best features of contemporary Scandinavian housing design with the intimate scale of a medieval Roman neighborhood.

Given the exceptionally innovative design of this project, Plan Design Xplore reached out to the project’s creator, Architect/Developer Lloyd Russell of San Diego. To learn more, read our interview!

Photos from the website of Deform Inc. (design-build contractor)

Site Plan

Site Plan

 

The Louie

312 NE Monroe

312 NE Monroe

Building Data:  Neighborhood: Eliot Year Built: 2014 Typology: Small Apartment building / Walk-up with townhouse units Units: 12 Stories: 3 Site Area: 5,000sf Building Area: 8,000sf FAR: 1.6:1 Density: 104.5 du/net acre Zoning: RH (no maximum density) Is it Legal? YES

Building Data:
Neighborhood: Eliot
Year Built: 2014
Typology: Small Apartment building / Walk-up with townhouse units
Units: 12
Stories: 3
Site Area: 5,000sf
Building Area: 8,000sf
FAR: 1.6:1
Density: 104.5 du/net acre
Zoning: RH (no maximum density)
Is it Legal? YES

The Louie is a particularly fascinating case study of a small apartment building. There’s a lot to like here. This is a small apartment building built just four years ago, located about 100’ off MLK Blvd. north of the Lloyd District. Let’s set aside, for now, the somewhat clumsy architectural expression on the front façade – sprinkler controls and fire alarm occupying the most prominent place on the façade? Was there really nowhere else to place this stuff?

But moving along, this resembles a well established historical apartment building type, and one that most people are pretty comfortable with. Like its historical precedents, the Louie is a three story building on a single 5000sf lot. This is the same size as a standard single-family house lot. This format was quite common 100 years ago and many were built in close in neighborhoods.

1920s small apartment building on a single lot.

1920s small apartment building on a single lot.

Unlike the typical 1920s buildings, which had 2-4 identical floors consisting of a central corridor and units on either side, the Louie has units that run all the way from one side of the building to the other, allowing two window-walls in all units (three on the ends).

Site plan: the notches represent stairways to the upper units.

Site plan: the notches represent stairways to the upper units.

The ground floor units enter from doors on the east wall, while the upper floors are actually townhouses. One walks up a flight of steps to enter the units lower level. Once inside, a stair leads up to the bedrooms on top.

This creates some real diversity of housing types in a single building and in the market at large as townhouse units are exceedingly rare in the US.

Now if they could just do something about those mechanical gubbins where the front door should be…