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Stuart Emmons

Why do people who like cars that are as futuristic looking as possible, who use cell phones and blackberrys, who wear zoopy sneakers, who watch TV on plasma screens - in other words, things that look to the future and support our best, innovative designers, want to live in a new house that looks like it was built 100 years ago? Where did the advances in improved light, views, space, and sustainability for houses go? I'd rather live in a tent than one of these things.

Bill Badrick

The fundamental issue here is the
Government intrusion into Private
Practice. They place their 'design
product' in direct competition with
every Design Professional's
work [both present and future]
in Portland. Futher ,their'product'
is Offered Preferentially as 'City
Approved'. They set a below-market
price on their plans and drive us to either lower our price or go out of business.Many Thanks to the
'City that works ... you over'.

Bryan Higgins

Given these comments, as the architect responsible for the design that has been built, I guess I have to respond here.
We purchased this property 8 years ago after having moved to Portland from Boston. The goal was to live close enough to work that we could commute by walking. This property came available, which was a 25'x50' dimension. It resides in a historic neighborhood which has a booklet of design guidelines that need to be adhered to. The design falls under a design review with the City of Portland as well as the concern of neighborhood committees.
Given all these challenges the goal was to have a design that respected the context, but did not mimic or replicate and was able to stand on its own.
I don't disagree with all the above statements in general, but I think if the authors were to actually even drive by the house they might agree that the house does not look like it was built 100 years ago. And with even closer inspection, say maybe go in the house, might conclude that there does exist advances of light, views, space and sustainability. I would be happy to give a tour, feel free to contact me.

Justin M

I'm not sure I agree that new and futuristic equals big. I think the houses look great and will allow for more afforable living within the city.

Andrew Hayden

In response to Stuart's comment:

Recently, there was a 3 hour documentary showing here in the UK on this exact subject. It was entitled "The perfect home" and was hosted by Alain de Botton; based on his book "The Architecture of Happiness." Very interesting questions were asked.

You may choose to look for it at your local bookshop.


And I would have to agree with Bryan that the design warrants a viewing before choosing to live in a tent.


I would further suggest taking a look at the livingsmartpdx website or the brochures of the design competition (if they are still available) - approximately 400+ entries were submitted world wide. The vast majority were extremely cutting-edge, high-tech, contemporary designs. In fact, several of the winning selections fall under that category and, as Brian pointed out, will be permitted soon after this first batch of 2. I believe a total of 10 initial designs will be permitted for quick building.

So don't worry, you will be able to get ahold of these new plans and give your neighbors a nice surprise!


I just noticed that both of these houses do not have garages (though the drawing at the top vaguely shows a curb cut). Although the design competition invited a number of design ideas, the fundamental problem with these skinny houses is accomodating a car. Bryan, does your house have an alley in the back, do you park on the street, or do you forgoe owning a car altogether?

Bryan Higgins

We have one car that we park on the street. Both my wife and I walk to work, so do not have a great need for it, which was the goal. We had to get a modification to the zoning in order to not have off street parking. If we were forced to, this would have become a multi-use space, in lieu of actually parking a car there.

Also, one other note, that the neighbors were somewhat in protest because they thought this design was too modern, go figure, and it doesn't even have a flat roof, which is, of course, what defines well proportioned cutting edge architecture these days.
I hate to be the one to break this to everyone, but flat roofs have been around for quite some time. Architecture is about more than strictly following the latest fashion and trend. There is an interior and exterior to a building that needs to work together, but the building also has a responsiblility to the context its set in. This can happen with or without a pitched roof.
Our contribution here was building a house that fit our pedistrian friendly lifestyle in this century.

Jill Dau

I don’t think that good architecture necessarily means flat roofs, either. I like Mr Higgin's design especially, but I think it deserves a more thorough design review.

Let's start with pedestrian and friendly: Why is the front door back so far? It’s a dark alley. This is not particularly neighborly, and in some places, it might be considered unsafe. Unlike many designs, that struggled with the reality of the garage’s space requirements, this one doesn’t, so then, why is the front door, the public entry, hidden?

Another problem that every competition entry had to grapple with were side windows. These houses could easily end up with only 10’ between the house and it’s neighbor because of zoning. Given that, I wonder why there wasn’t more emphasis on larger windows in the front and back elevation. Instead, there’s a strategy of minimizing windows on one side and maximizing the other side. In the worse case scenario (three narrow lot houses in a row) that maximized side is going to be low on light and offer little privacy. It's a waste of windows.

Some windows could be fixed by moving them a little. After all, there are rooms with high ceilings, and if I understand correctly. Why not locate the side window in the living room higher, thus allowing both light and privacy? I’m guessing the high windows on the front elevation are for ventilation, but they are also an opportunity for more light and while maintaining privacy. Another missed opportunity

I think that is terms of proportion and massing this house is great. Look at how tall it is, yet it hardly seems to tower over its neighbors!

But this deception is the same thing that kind of irks me – the plan of this house is really a dumbbell plan. Large rooms at each end and services in the middle. But you’d never know it looking at the outside.

The truth and friendliness of the house is like the front door, hidden.

Bryan Higgins

These comments are good observations from someone who has not actually been through the house and has been observing from afar. I appreciate the critical analysis and realize that by doing what I've done with this house I was opening up for that. I could go on in a similar fashion about most of the winning entries, but do not have the time.
We have been living in this house for three years now, so have managed to put this to the test. Also, it does exist so people can feel free to drive by or call for a tour.
The front door is set back, you are correct, for cover when we are walking home in the rain. The front room opens to the street with a large bay and to the entry porch. Having windows with an active space behind them offers a gesture to the pedestrian nature of the neighborhood. It becomes unsafe when you do not have any active spaces directly off the street, like a garage. This is something I observed in older neighborhoods while living in Philadelphia and Boston. My neighbors would agree with this.
If you were to walk through the house I believe you would agree there is ample natural light, in the context of the construction type. On closer study, the windows do reflect what is happening behind. Higher windows in the living spaces, the character of this changes at places like the stairs, kitchen, etc.
The dumbbell plan is actually what makes the house work so well. With the vertical circulation in the center, this cuts down on long corridors and allows the spaces to be more efficiently open to one another. Placing the vertical circulation at one end of the house would make this feel like living in a trailer, similar to some of the other competition entries. Also allows for the opportunity to open up toward the front and back of the house. The plan arrangement and height help reduce the footprint and impermeable area. Also allows for stack effect natural ventilation.
As far as the window placement, this design was very site specific. Where this would work well in a lot of areas in Portland, I don't think it will fit in everywhere. Which is true of all the winning entries. Given this it will be nice to see other winners moving toward developing their designs for permit ready building.


Shouldn't architecture be guided by the environment? In rainy oregon why would you want a flat roof? The design of the house should work with the natural order of the area. There seems to be a certain arrogance to todays architecture. Its all form, no function. "look at me" or "whats cool at that time" architecture. The site itself should dictate design, not the fashions of todays architects.

Joshua Chang

Old vs. the new. An age old debate, the same arguments. There are so many factors here that just about anybody with an opinion can find a valid point to argue their perspective on architecture. As mentioned before though, we need to do more with our work than to have them grounded in our ego's.

First of all, this is Portland. Whereas our urban design skills may be above par with our contemporary cities, the architecture is obviously steeped in a more conservative generation of minds. Not a castigation, just an observation. This is why many of our public works projects lack the flair that we see in other cities (for an example take a look at the tram that is developing). When it comes down to it, many "designers" are completely satisfied with accepting the paycheck and building the norm. They feel by adding a refrigerator that looks like cabinets and having low flow fixtures, that they are keeping up with the contemporary world (if you don't believe me see the street of dreams every year).

Secondly, a modern house does not have to have a flat room and a full wall of glass like many who have never dared try or ever studies contemporary architecture would know. Just like all epochs in the life of architecture, there is good design and bad design. If you find a skillful designer, even in the most stringent design boards, you can find ways of fitting in and still creating something contemporary. It's just disappointing that in the past few design competitions this city has hosted, the winners were ultimately based on ease, speed, and profit. In every big decision in life, there's the easy way, and then there's the right way. It seems people have already made their decisions.


I neglected to follow the link provided in the beginning of Brian's post here. Now that I've followed it and looked at the plans, it seems like a thoughtful solution in plan (which I believe is what Jill Dau was alluding to with the "hidden" commentary).
I was looking at the elevations to determine if, in fact, larger windows would have been better on the ends. Its plausible, but the second floor living has 5 windows and would ostensibly be a well lit space as is. Larger glazing vs energy efficiency, etc. Its probably a conversation more about aesthetics than anything else.
I'm curious though Bryan, it appears that the rear elevation is different in the proposed plan than in realized form. And now that I've thought about it, you mentioned the built house is on a 50' lot, while the competition is on a 100' lot. Aside from the fenestration on the end elevation, were there other modifications made given the longer lot depth?


To Bill Badrick, I really don't think that the city is intruding on your business - in fact I think it'll actually enhance it. The people buying the plans aren't your customer - they're the ones who are building that one dumb plan already going up around the city right now. They want to keep costs down, not pay for what architects can provide.

How can it improve your business? It gets people familiar with good design! If we see well designed and modern homes going up in the city it makes it more likely that well designed homes will be more sought after. (Why can you only get a modern home in the Pearl right now?)

We're going to build modern when we remodel, but we'll be a test case for our neighborhood. That shouldn't be the case.

As for the flat roof. We'd like an eco roof, which suits our climate well. Also, even without it being an eco roof, I understand that flat roofs can provide bird habitat that has been destroyed by land being built over with all these homes.

I hope Randy Leonard is listening. We'd like to see modern homes that look like they were built in our time.

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