Contemporary

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.

Deck.jpg

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…

 

41 NE Skidmore

41 NE Skidmore.jpg
Building Data:  Neighborhood: Humboldt Year Built: 2017 Typology: Townhouse Units: 3 Stories: 3 Site Area: 7,456sf  (est.) Building Area: 6,800sf FAR: 0.9:1 Density: 17.5du/net acre                                Zoning: R2.5 Is it Legal? YES

Building Data:
Neighborhood: Humboldt
Year Built: 2017
Typology: Townhouse
Units: 3
Stories: 3
Site Area: 7,456sf  (est.)
Building Area: 6,800sf
FAR: 0.9:1
Density: 17.5du/net acre                             
Zoning: R2.5
Is it Legal? YES

This is a fairly attractive variant on a popular 21st century typology, the townhouse with a ground level garage. In this case, two smaller townhouses bracket a larger one in the center. The two eastern units share a curb-cut which provides access to one-car garages. The western unit has a detached garage at the extreme northwest corner of the lot, where it fits nicely due to an irregular lot shape.

Like many infill typologies, this works much better on a corner lot, since the new sub lots can re-orient toward the long side and still face a street.

This developer resisted the urge to make the cars occupy most of the ground floor and make up the lost residential square footage with a third floor. The mini tower format certainly maximizes the amount of house the developer is selling, but it leads to a home with little to no relationship to the outdoor space, and leads to a lot of climbing stairs, which is less desirable for older residents, and irritating to just about everyone.

41 NE Skidmore site plan.

41 NE Skidmore site plan.

It’s noteworthy that this project was developed as condos. The three units sit on a single lot and the owner is listed as the Home Owners Association (HOA). This may be a result of the fact that land divisions to create new lots out of a larger parent lot take a long time and add cost and complexity to a project. 

 

5900-5920 N Albina Ave

5900 N Abina.jpg
Building Data:  Neighborhood: Humboldt Year Built: 2014 Typology: Plex / One Story / Bungalow court format Units: 6 (Pair of identical triplexes on separate lots) Stories: 1 Site Area: 10,000sf Building Area: 5,040sf FAR: 0.5:1 Density: 26du/net acre                                   Zoning: R2 Is it Legal? YES

Building Data:
Neighborhood: Humboldt
Year Built: 2014
Typology: Plex / One Story / Bungalow court format
Units: 6 (Pair of identical triplexes on separate lots)
Stories: 1
Site Area: 10,000sf
Building Area: 5,040sf
FAR: 0.5:1
Density: 26du/net acre                                 
Zoning: R2
Is it Legal? YES

This project is the first attempt we’ve seen to replicate the 1920s single-story bungalow court format. There several great examples of the original prototype just north of here, along Albina Ave. There are a few caveats. This is actually configured as a pair of separate linear triplexes. They are on separate lots. Both lots are 5000 sf and are zoned R2a, which allows one dwelling unit per 2000sf of site area. The “a” overlay denotes Alternative Density Design Overlay, and it’s provisions likely facilitated the total unit count of 6 DU on 10,000sf.

6337 N Albina - Example of a typical 1920s courtyard building.

6337 N Albina - Example of a typical 1920s courtyard building.

 

These triplexes represent a very attractive typology, from a resident’s point of view. Individual front doors give the units a home-like presence on the street, as opposed to an anonymous shared hallway in an apartment type structure. All units have at least two window walls and end units have 3. This particular development has small fenced private back yards. This makes this typology more attractive to families with children. Ideally, these buildings could link up and form a U-shape around a central courtyard.

We’d love to see more of this type of building, for all the reasons above. We’d also like to build a picture of the kind of parameters that would make it sensible to build this way. We wonder if perhaps so few of these buildings get built is because doing a single story apartment with no off street parking amounts to “leaving money on the table.” We have observed several similar sites redeveloped as three story