5408 NE 28th Ave. (photo by 22pages)
BY BRIAN LIBBY
Thirteen years ago this month, Portland architect Walker Templeton was getting ready for one of his last games as a football player: a Holiday Bowl victory over Texas as his Oregon Ducks team earned its first ever year-end Top 10 ranking.
Now, as his former team again prepares to play Texas in a bowl game this month, Templeton's career has taken another turn. Though he has spent the past eight years (following a master's degree in architecture at UO) toiling at two prominent firms, ZGF and now SERA, Templeton recently saw completion of his first solo project: a house on NE 28th Avenue that the architect intends to last a century.
As sustainable design and construction have moved closer to the mainstream over the past decade-plus, the term "hundred-year building" has become common: a shorthand way of expressing that a more robust insulation, structure and other aspects of its architecture possess enough durability and quality to last for a century. A hundred-year house, presumably, would be the opposite of the '70s ranch house that I grew up in: no sense that the Big Bad Wolf could blow it down in one exhale, no suspicion that half the heat one pays for escapes out the single pane windows, and no hearing conversations across the house through hollow doors.
Indeed, as I arrived to visit the recently completed 2,450-square-foot house, Templeton was eager to talk about its insulation. Though not technically a Passive House, in which the structure becomes almost like an airtight thermos, the design follows the same approach, adding far more insulation than code requires and assuring no moisture penetrates its exterior.
Inside 5408 NE 28th (photos by 22pages)
Yet Templeton and Jon DeLeonardo of SERA, who served as a project architect assisting Templeton's lead design, also worked hard to create a kind of spatial efficiency. One gets a sense, passing through the rectangular ground-floor great room and the three upstairs bedrooms, that the configurations have been whittled down to their most basic. "Jon and I went over and over again on a napkin," Templeton says as we tour the home. "Whenever we’d add something, we’d ask ourselves, does it need it?" At the front door, for example, you can easily look through the house and out the floor-to-ceiling glass in the back. Upstairs, Templeton took out a second bedroom and added a Jack-and-Jill shared bath in order to create more storage space and a laundry area.
The house also made reclaimed materials a priority. Especially of note is the reclaimed Douglas fir, which was used for most all of the floor, stair treads, shelving and other trim. All of it came from an 80-year-old warehouse. "The beams are all 20 feet long," Templeton says, pointing to the floor, "so there’s no seams." But he's just as proud of things like interior closet shelving. "I hate walking through million-dollar homes and seeing particle board shelving. All this will be slabs of wood. Everything in this house is made to last for 100 years."
Outside, the house straddles an interesting line between modern and traditional. It has the minimalist form of a modern structure, almost like one triangular block sitting atop a rectangle, with no extraneous detailing. Yet simply by having a pitched roof the house seems to try and fit in with the existing neighborhood of older homes. "I’ve seen a lot of these homes in modern neighborhoods that look like a cube," Templeton explains. "I love cubes, but in this context they can feel like they’re from outer space." The exterior also alternates traditional stucco on its front and back with black metal panels on its north and south sides, each a durable material but one with an older feel and one newer, emblemizing the yin-yang of modernity and past that fueled the design.
Inside 5408 NE 28th (photos by 22pages)
Although the house seems to fit well into its context, that doesn't mean the neighbors aren't gawking. Thanks to its gutterless roof, during rains the house displays a kind of functional theater, as rain falls from the roof down to deep collection pools on either side. "A neighbor told us, 'We love to watch the side of your house when it rains. We love to see the waterfall coming down,'" DeLeonardo says. "The droplets just kind of dance."
Built as a spec home, the house on 28th has already found a buyer. But Templeton hopes it will be the first of many. SERA not only allowed the architect to pursue the project while balancing it with his other firm duties (something many firms would eschew), but its leaders have encouraged Templeton to potentially design his next house under the SERA umbrella - and to make it a full fledged passive house.
Templeton's college football career was eventually cut short: an Achilles tendon injury in his senior year, 2001 (one of the Ducks' greatest seasons, with the team winning a Fiesta Bowl and finishing #2 in the nation), limited him to three games. But he says football indirectly made him a better architect.
Templeton had known he wanted to be an architect from a young age. His father, grandfather and brother all worked as home builders. But obtaining an undergraduate architecture degree and playing major-college football just weren't congruent. One spring, Templeton sat down with then-head coach Mike Bellotti and realized as much after his off-season conditioning regimen, meant to add 30 pounds of muscle, instead saw him drop 10. So in order to streamline his fall studies and focus on football, Templeton switched to a multi-disciplinary bachelor of fine arts degree program that combined multimedia design, business and art history.
"I think it was the best decision I ever made," he says. "I went from a mindset of wanting to do typical developer-driven architecture to thinking about and trying all kinds of design and art, from multimedia to sculpture and furniture. It put my whole world upside-down." After earning a master's degree in architecture over the ensuing three years, Templeton would soon find himself at ZGF under celebrated architect Gene Sandoval, working on projects at his alma mater like the award-winning Jacqua Center. He says it was the hardest decision of his career to leave ZGF and its portfolio of large-scale sustainable projects. Yet watching Templeton lead the tour of this home, one can see an architect passionate about the opportunity to leave a mark of his own. Architecture, like football, is a team game. But this house gives a former lineman a chance to run with the ball in his hands.