Missing Middle

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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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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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