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Thread: Portland's skinny houses

  1. #1
    Cyburbian Cardinal's avatar
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    Portland's skinny houses

    It is laudable that Portland would sponsor a competition to design houses for the city's narrow infill lots. (http://www.planetizen.com/news/item.php?id=14525) It is too bad that the result is mostly not worth considering. Why? Here is one example:



    This one gives a very clear depiction of what is lacking in nearly all of the designs. Context. Of 49 selections, almost every one is a sleek, squared, modernist glass structure. Needless to say, nearly all of the neighborhoods are filled with wood-sided, gable-roofed houses. Is this competition really going to inspire good design? I doubt it. Sure, as individual buildings, these homes look good. Put them in a neighborhood, though, and they will look grossly out of place. If Portland wants good examples of infill to provide developers, why not instead spend some time in neighborhoods like Chicago's Lincoln Park, taking photographs of good architecture fitting into its setting?
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  2. #2
    Cyburbian jordanb's avatar
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    [sarcasm]Because all of those new buildings in Chicago are "banal" and "derivative." Real architecture is "progressive" and "ground-breaking." Architects shouldn't be constrained by considerations of context because that inhibits their creative energy. They should be free to be the creative geniuses they are.

    This isn't the 19th century anymore. Stone and red brick are longer legitimate building materials. Everything now must be built out of concrete and glass and titanium (never mind the fact that concrete and glass have been used for building for at least 1,500 years).[/sarcasm]

  3. #3
    Cyburbian ludes98's avatar
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    1. Research: visit site, note surrounding neighborhood character, take pictures.
    2. Ignore researched context of neighborhood and design project.
    3. Win award.



    Based on conversations I have had with people who don't care about this topic, they may not know anything about planning or architecture, but they know when a building is out of place. Why would a design competition ignore the fabric of the community in which it is placed? Noticed support from Fannie Mae and the National Housing Endowment.

  4. #4
    Cyburbian The One's avatar
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    Greeeaaaat.......NOT

    Double decker mobile homes.....now I've seen everything.....Why not just jamb a huge loaf of bread into the example you provided since that's what it really is....a bread box.....I wanted to say it looks like a brick SH%# House, but that would be kind.....
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  5. #5
    Cyburbian ludes98's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by The One
    I wanted to say it looks like a brick SH%# House, but that would be kind.....
    Ok so now I have this photoshopped image in my head where the front of the home is all wood siding with the star and moon slits....What a nice outhouse you have!

  6. #6
    Cyburbian The One's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by ludes98
    Ok so now I have this photoshopped image in my head where the front of the home is all wood siding with the star and moon slits....What a nice outhouse you have!
    An indelible image of architecture you would expect to see the Japanese accomplish first.....In fact, I'll bet they were the first to build this type of structure at some point.....anyone know.....Don't look to the APA, apparently the only international planning they focus on is in China......(I'm starting to consider a rant on this subject....)
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  7. #7
    Cyburbian biscuit's avatar
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    That is truly bad, bad architecture. With the flat front, slat covered glass walls, prominent garage door and lack of a front porch, it looks like a detached version of a late seventies town house.

  8. #8
    Cyburbian Wannaplan?'s avatar
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    Off-topic:
    I know this is sort of off-topic, but stays the course in its criticism of architects...

    When I was in grad school for planning, I dated a girl in our college's graduate architecture program. One architect she admired used unfinished and exposed plywood in a design for a home in Hollywood. She loved this project! She showed me an academic article that featured the architect's "innovative" use of the material. I didn't like it and I told her so. She didn't like my reaction. I guess our life experiences during our youth were somewhat different - having come from a socioeconomic background that was lower than hers, I've visited houses that used unfinished plywood as an interior wall surface because that's what was affordable.

    Here's a view of the architect's finished work:



    The WorkHouse employs the changing perception of position, space, form and material as the primary elements in a flexural composition.

    Materials were deployed for their experiential characteristics and ability to contribute to the muliple spatial understanding of the project. While the visual properties of opacity and transparence are understood and certain, translucency occupies the curious territory between the two, where spatial boundary or extension are in a state of continuous flux dependent upon the condition of the light at the moment and the position of the observer.

  9. #9

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    What is being missed here is the attempt to make it affordable in a very expensive market. You can't just stamp out one of the bungalows. You can mass produce this ugly object. What I'm interested in hearing is how you can make something more appealing affordable?

  10. #10
    Cyburbian jordanb's avatar
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    Off-topic:
    Materials were deployed for their experiential characteristics and ability to contribute to the muliple spatial understanding of the project. While the visual properties of opacity and transparence are understood and certain, translucency occupies the curious territory between the two, where spatial boundary or extension are in a state of continuous flux dependent upon the condition of the light at the moment and the position of the observer.
    What a load of bull****.

  11. #11
    Cyburbian nerudite's avatar
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    Well, I guess I'll be in the dissenting opinion in this one. I like some of the modern proposals. It seems like when we try to recreate a more historic context, that most of the time new development falls short. So why not allow some contemporary designs mixed in if they have a similar relationship to the street as other buildings in the area. I'm not for the blank walls, sheer glass look... but a contemporary building with porches in front, small front yard setback and orientation to the street and the rest of the neighbourhood could work. I really love Portland, but more architectural diversity in some of the neighourhoods would be a nice change of flavour. As an example, I think some of the neighbourhoods in the funky NW area could stand a little diversification, especially in and around the commercial streets that have already included some eclectic infill.

    An example of a design that I like (although I would have reduced the front yard setback a bit, but it may be necessary for the underground parking):


  12. #12
    Cyburbian Michele Zone's avatar
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    Nerudite, you make me think of the book "How Buildings Learn", where they show historical pics and present-day pics of the same buildings and talk about the evolution of the building. A lot of "historical" buildings did NOT look like that way back when. They have that look because of the way in which their facade got built up over time, not because they were designed that way from the get-go. I think the "historically correct" (like "politically correct") folks are kind of misguided in that respect.

  13. #13

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    Living in the Bay Area where this kind of jarring disconnect exists all the time in desirable inner San Francisco neighborhoods, it doesn't bother me as much as it maybe should. The images of adjoining houses are not all that worth copying slavishly, imo. Especially the snout houses to the right. But, the image may be misleading/confusing.

    I would say that the second example posted by Nerudite is much better, and I don't really like the first example that much, but are you guys implying that neighborhood can never change in style? What if the neighborhood is dominated by blah stucco California Suburban snout house? Is every following house condemned to be blah suburban snout houses? What about remodels (Michellezone has a point there) Heck, we need to implement rigid paint color controls, because an Asian or Hispanic family might move in and change the beige to something more colorful!!!!!

    Confession: Charter subscriber of Dwell Magazine. San Francisco AIA House Tour participant two years running.

    I agree that architects can be pretentious and silly. But, so can developers/builders and their themed generica. Call me pretentious, but the average American residential vernacular IS banal.

    (jordanb forgets this, living in a City with one of the best heritages of everyday residential architecture.)

  14. #14
    Cyburbian nerudite's avatar
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    This is another one I kind of like, that is contemporary but I think still 'blends' with the neighbourhood.


  15. #15
    Cyburbian ludes98's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by nerudite
    An example of a design that I like (although I would have reduced the front yard setback a bit, but it may be necessary for the underground parking)
    I didn't see underground parking in Cardinal's, but I would agree the setback is required for it. You can't have steep approach/departure angles on that slope. Plus I am assuming the City has some limit on the driveway grade. As a prospective buyer I would be concerned with drainage collection.

  16. #16
    Cyburbian zman's avatar
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    I could see this being maybe a redesign of an entire neighborhood, but not as infill. This looks like somethig they would do in the inner-city when entire blocks go vacant and become run-down. Maybe near a futuristic-looking stadium?
    I kind of like them, but defenetly context, surrounding neighbors, and overall site/block design should be considered.

    And that's my 2 cents
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  17. #17
    spokanite's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by nerudite
    So why not allow some contemporary designs mixed in if they have a similar relationship to the street as other buildings in the area. I'm not for the blank walls, sheer glass look... but a contemporary building with porches in front, small front yard setback and orientation to the street and the rest of the neighbourhood could work.
    I'll have to agree with you Nerudite...but I may be a bit biased. My house is the one on the far right in the images below. It was the last of the three built and the design kind of 'evolved' over time. I don't care for the blank wall of my neighbor's. In the summer time, it acts like a giant heatsink.

    I live in a small sliver of land between the Spokane River to the north and a steep ridge to the south. The neighborhood was supposedly the first residential area to be platted in the city, and accordingly, most of the older lots are 25'x100'. These homes were built between 1998 and 2000, with mine being the last.

    These didn't sell that quickly. I think it was a combination of them being very contemporary and being located in an older, depressed neighborhood. We're tucked away on a little side street away from the older 'historic' distric. The neighborhood is full of 100 year old shotgun style homes. Now there is new home construction going on all around me and nearly all of them have more traditional elements than mine. I like my house. Though there are some things I'd do differently with the design, I think a contrasting design in a traditional neighborhood can be a nice element as well as made affordable.




    Last edited by spokanite; 05 Oct 2004 at 12:44 PM.

  18. #18

    Charleston

    For some reason, when I think of narrow lots, I think of charleston SC. The houses are built sideways to the street. Very different from todays builder inspired McMansions and Mcneighborhoods. I do think that neighborhood looks are important. At least TRY to fit in somehow. As to double-decker mobile homes, if they don't have them, they should. for folks who have money.[okay, bad joke from you may be a redneck if guy, sorry, the devil made me do it]

  19. #19
    Cyburbian Cardinal's avatar
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    Going back to my suggestion of Lincoln Park, I think it is important to note that many of the remodels and new homes in that neighborhood (and others like it) do have a more modern style, with glass, steel, tile, and other contemporary finishes. Still, in most there is a contextual relationship with the existing neighborhood, at least in massing and basic forms. That is what seems to be missing from many of Portland's examples.
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  20. #20
    spokanite's avatar
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    Iceburg dead ahead!

    Quote Originally posted by Cardinal
    Still, in most there is a contextual relationship with the existing neighborhood, at least in massing and basic forms. That is what seems to be missing from many of Portland's examples.
    I think this entry pretty much makes your point Cardinal. Holy Shnikies!



    Suh-nuh-fah buck! "I'm king of the world!!!" Awful.
    Last edited by spokanite; 05 Oct 2004 at 12:35 AM. Reason: added comment

  21. #21
    Cyburbian jordanb's avatar
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    ^-- Ya gotta love the Engrish on that.

  22. #22
    Unfrozen Caveman Planner mendelman's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Cardinal
    Going back to my suggestion of Lincoln Park, I think it is important to note that many of the remodels and new homes in that neighborhood (and others like it) do have a more modern style, with glass, steel, tile, and other contemporary finishes. Still, in most there is a contextual relationship with the existing neighborhood, at least in massing and basic forms. That is what seems to be missing from many of Portland's examples.
    Here are pics of some residential infill in Chicago. Some from Lincoln Park and other neighborhoods like Lincoln Park:




















    A nice mixture of neo-traditional and neo-modernist. Luckily, many (or all) of these houses have alley access so you don't get the garage access interupting the sidewalk/pedestrian space as in the Portland examples (which is my only substantive criticism of the Portland houses).
    Last edited by mendelman; 05 Oct 2004 at 12:59 PM.
    I'm sorry. Is my bias showing?

    The ends can justify the means.

  23. #23

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    Quote Originally posted by mendelman
    Here are pics of some residential infill in Chicago. Some from Lincoln Park and other neighborhoods like Lincoln Park:




















    A nice mixture of neo-traditional and neo-modernist. Luckily, many (or all) of these houses have alley access so you don't get the garage access interupting the sidewalk/pedestrian space as in the Portland examples.
    Ah. These photos support your point much better. At first, I thought you and many of the other posters were simply reflexively anti-modernism. Planners as a whole tend to be very traditionalist. As I could be, if I were convinced that modern architects and builders were at all capable of building a good traditional building. Absent that, clever, contextual modernism-especially the clean, light-filled open floor plans of the interiors-is far preferrable to my tastes than a faux-Victorian with awful "country kitchen" design. That's just my taste, of course.

  24. #24
    Cyburbian boilerplater's avatar
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    You need adventure sometimes!

    I agree that architects can be pretentious and silly. But, so can developers/builders and their themed generica. Call me pretentious, but the average American residential vernacular IS banal.
    Hear, hear!

    I bet most of those entries came out of graduate design studios. Originality and progrssive concepts are a must or you'll be laughed out of the class. Repeating a historic style isn't seen as a challenge. Its really not much fun for the designer either. Why not just copy some pages from "Palliser's Model Homes" and call it a day? Nobody would take your competition seriously if you called for fitting into the existing neighborhoods. The architectural culture doesn't work that way.

    I like a lot of those houses, but I must agree that they would look more comfortable in a new neighborhood with all the homes of a more modern lineage.

    Oh, Nerudite, I think your deck would look better painted the same color as the trim of the house. Looks like a good construction job though.
    Adrift in a sea of beige

  25. #25
    Cyburbian Cardinal's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by boilerplater
    Hear, hear!

    I bet most of those entries came out of graduate design studios. Originality and progrssive concepts are a must or you'll be laughed out of the class. Repeating a historic style isn't seen as a challenge...
    Maybe you are right, but it is disappointing then, if so many architects are unwilling to continue to develop and expand existing styles. So many of our greatest architectural movements harken back to older traditions - Gothic Revival, Richardsonian Romanesque, Tudor, etc. I am a fan of the Shingle Style, and love Vincent Scully's books. The modern examples of the style that he includes are every bit as challenging (more so?) than most of what is being designed today.

    On the other hand, there seems to be a growing number of Faux Victorian homes being built, far too many with jarring proportions, incorrect materials, and tacked-on ornamentation. These are really horrible.
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