Missing Middle

1106-1114 SE Lincoln St.

Building Data:  Neighborhood: Hosford-Abernethy Year Built: 2017 Typology: Townhouse, styled to look like Walk-up Apartment Building Units: 6 Stories: 3 Site Area: 2,850sf Building Area: 6,090 FAR: 2.14:1 Density: 91.7 du/net acre Zoning: RX (Central Residential) Off Street Parking? None Is it Legal? Yes

Building Data:
Neighborhood: Hosford-Abernethy
Year Built: 2017
Typology: Townhouse, styled to look like Walk-up Apartment Building
Units: 6
Stories: 3
Site Area: 2,850sf
Building Area: 6,090
FAR: 2.14:1
Density: 91.7 du/net acre
Zoning: RX (Central Residential)
Off Street Parking? None
Is it Legal? Yes

Notes:

Just west of Ladd’s Addition, we discovered this fascinating recent addition to the neighborhood. This little project shows what a little attention to proportion and form can do. This building takes a form common to pre-war multifamily housing, a U-shaped building with to wings and an entry court. Unlike a typical apartment building in this format, this project is a somewhat unorthodox configuration; six three-story townhouses.

The façade material is the mundane material, EIFS, a foam and stucco cladding system we typically associate with suburban strip malls. Here it’s used to great effect, including a nice offset around the windows, giving them a depth not usually found in contemporary construction. We located a great precedent about a block away, showing historic context for this design.

Breakdown of how a good façade is composed

Breakdown of how a good façade is composed

The subject property “Before”

The subject property “Before”

We particularly appreciate this building because of its sensitivity to its surroundings and its careful application of classical proportions. While composed in the form of a well-established typology, the building also exhibits a clear hierarchy of base middle and top. It is symmetrically composed, and its windows are roughly twice as high as they are wide. On the block face, the building’s cornice is roughly in line with the roof heights of surrounding structures. The building achieves a very high net density because it is on a very small lot. At roughly 50x57, the lot is about half the size of a standard Portland residential parcel. We uncovered a “before” photo from the City, showing the property before this building was constructed. The lot appears to have been chiseled off from a neighboring property, creating a new half-lot.

Nice window detail, unfortunate PGE meter placement.

Nice window detail, unfortunate PGE meter placement.

Formal-factor compatibility with surrounding context

Formal-factor compatibility with surrounding context

Neighboring Historical Precedent

Neighboring Historical Precedent

Site Plan

Site Plan

 

2413-17 SE Division

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Site Data (just the 5000sf containing the two new structures) Building Area:  Building 1 (Front) 4500sf Building 2 (Rear) 1800sf  Neighborhood:  Hosford-Abernethy  Year Built:  2014 (per Assessor data, actual phasing unknown)  Typology:  side-by-side townhouse/rowhouse  Units:  5 (3 in phase I, 2 in phase II)  Stories:  2  Site Area:  5000sf  Building Area:  6300sf  FAR:  1.26:1  Height: 2 stories,  25’ approx.  Density:  Phase I Triplex – 26.1 du/ac Triplex + Phase II Duplex 43.6du/ac Whole Site:29.0du/ac  Parking:  on-street  Zoning:  R-1 (1du/1000sf)  Is it legal?  Yes

Site Data (just the 5000sf containing the two new structures)
Building Area:
Building 1 (Front) 4500sf
Building 2 (Rear) 1800sf
Neighborhood: Hosford-Abernethy
Year Built: 2014 (per Assessor data, actual phasing unknown)
Typology: side-by-side townhouse/rowhouse
Units: 5 (3 in phase I, 2 in phase II)
Stories: 2
Site Area: 5000sf
Building Area: 6300sf
FAR: 1.26:1
Height: 2 stories, 25’ approx.
Density:
Phase I Triplex – 26.1 du/ac
Triplex + Phase II Duplex 43.6du/ac
Whole Site:29.0du/ac
Parking: on-street
Zoning: R-1 (1du/1000sf)
Is it legal? Yes

2413-2417 SE Division provides a lovely modern example for a traditional two story row house similar to what you would find in historic English and northeastern U.S. neighborhoods. Unlike many of its contemporary cousin townhouse designs, this building has been freed from the design constraints imposed by the addition of garages. This allows the structure to better blend into a neighborhood primarily constructed before the mass use of the automobile, and also allocates more street parking on a busy commercial corridor rather than limiting public parking due to curb cuts for private garages.

Phase II duplex behind primary structure

Phase II duplex behind primary structure

The project originated with the historical duplex located on the NE corner of SE 24th and Division, expanding to the neighboring lot with three forward facing townhouse units, with the later addition of two more townhouse units behind the first three. The living space of the units is not floating above a garage, allowing the living space to have a real relationship to the ground plane and the street. This relationship allows the building to blend into the existing fabric of the block - its sidewalks and other buildings, rather than floating 10 feet above everything else. Lots this close into the center of the city are well covered by public transit, and historically have not been designed around parking, this is a great place for garage-free design.

Unlike many contemporary examples, this building does not fear symmetry and uses a tried and true approach to building design. You have simple clean lines creating clear definitions between the units, windows that line up, solid choice of quality build materials. We would love to see more of this in the future.


Land + Construction + Time

Land + Construction + Time

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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

 

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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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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