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Hmmm ... sliding doors so one can here every lil thing , and shared wall w/ noisy neighbors , all for


i agree that there's a lot in the interior, and even some things on the exterior, to recommend this design. however, i think that the days of having nothing but a garage door facing the sidewalk should be long behind us now. unfortunately, this resembles a nicely tweaked version of a lot of boring urban apartment buildings from the seventies, and i don't think it will survive as a monument of the best design had to offer in this day and age.


while going looking through the photos of this project i was reminded of a quote by ansel adams - "there is nothing worse than a sharp image of a fuzzy concept".

if you take the materials and asymmetrical fenestration out of the equation for this project it seems to fail on several levels... while it may do something clever in section to address its need for more height, (although it would have been nice to connect some levels with double height space in addition to the stair tower) it fails to address the street with anything more than two highlighted garage doors and a concrete pad. any sense that humans actually live here seems to be lost. the front yard and entry seem to be replaced by the need for more driveway and garage presence. can you imagine an entire street of these? ugg. perhaps in a more urban location with marauders prowling the mean streets i can see this building being more successful. i think you were seduced by the architects pedigree and lost focus on this one brian. although i like the material choices, fenestration and purity of form i would say a pretty poor work overall.


front door = garage door?

welcome home!


I agree. This is a pretty depressing approach to site planning and neighborhood fabric. I like the split levels conceptually and don't mind working around the personality of the architecture, but I find the relationship to the street utterly dismal! I can't tell from the photographs what the materials are, but the windows and garage doors look cheap and detailed poorly. This project embodies many of the failures of modern design without enough of the triumphs to make it worth while.

Brian Libby

I agree it's better not to have garages or curb cuts in the front of the house. But I think most developers will tell you that's simply what the market wants. In that way, I think Ben is being pragmatic. However, one thing I didn't describe enough in the post is that the landscaping in front is yet to grow in, and Ben has created a much more green frontery to the building, including what seems to be the driveway, than appears in these photos. I'm going to amend the post to describe some of this.



while garages may be a market necessity, the problem with the entry to this building has nothing to do with this fact... making nothing more out of the entries than a disguised portion of the garages highlights the garage door and not only downplays the pedestrian entry but goes to lengths to eliminate it. and regardless how green the brown parts of the landscape turn they were ill conceived to begin with. you dont follow the landscape into the building, you follow the concrete stepping stone drive. the landscaped portion in the front slopes up from street level and leads you to a... wall... all of this was intentional by the architect to achieve some aesthetic goal and in my opinion why this building fails overall. we as architects can and need to do better.


yeah, the project overall is fine, I do like how he chose to give more space to the occupant, but the garage door entrance is a huge stumble for this project. This project would be perfect for Houston, but it is wrong for Portland. The front door should be the connection to the world, not the garage.

Though I do understand that often times it is needed for a sell, but I think it could of been handled much better.

Looking at the photos and the landscaping to the project, once it fills in, it will definitely add a good character to it that is currently missing.

Just they way he handled the parking seems to be the big issue. It is a start but developers and architects need to do much better than this in Portland.

Brian Libby

I underestimated in writing this post what a stumbling block the front garage would be. I agree it's not the choice I'd make, but I'd really like for people to be able to look at the rest of the design, too. I think I liked the project as much as I did because, perhaps unlike most of the time, I was focused on the inside.


thats a cool project garages and all



unfortunately for this project (and the neighborhood) it is defined by the fact that it so boldly ignores good site design strategies and seems to make efforts to highlight the garage/drive experience and disguise the entry. even the approach is swallowed up by more driveway. this one gesture is how this building presents itself to the street and 99.9% of the world that does not go inside (should you be lucky enough to find the front door)... while the interior finish and exterior materials/detail may all be well executed and of note, the building failed from the initial conception. its too hard to let some nice aesthetic choices trump good (basic) site planning. all that being said, the building is a great remodel of a 60s tuck-under apartment building.


i think the section diagram is brillant. brian probably was seduced once he was inside. the spatial connection and unexpected relationship of spaces must be pretty compelling. But...although the combined units proportions are a little unexpected, as many have suggested the entry sequence is an failure on many levels.


I would assume no one in this thread has been to the site or been in the building (except Brian). It's very easy to sit back in a chair and be judgmental. What is difficult to do is to procure property, subdivide it, secure financing for something of which there are no comps, and bring to market something that is detailed fantastically with enough profit margin to continue forward (and doesn't feel like it was dropped on site from a beaverton sub division.)

This project is about minimalism, interior space, light and finish detail. You can go to most neighborhoods in Portland and find a skinny house for sale with some nice glued on wood exterior detailing, tuck under garage, cheap vinyl windows and textured drywall....is this what we all prefer? We spend 90% of our time indoors...so what is more important?

I would say that Ben did a great job detailing the entry and garage door. Who has a flush garage door? Because the detailing is so well done, the entire entry actually reads (in person) as a recessed white volume. Has anyone checked out the windows in person? They are very cool - and the furthest thing from cheap! I don't know of any spec project in Portland that has true tilt and turn windows. This building has the finish quality of a german automobile...are we really asking for a GM product?

Ben Waechter

The Z-Haus entries may have been misunderstood from the photo taken from across the street which does not show any detail. It was very important in this project to create a welcoming and pedestrian scaled entry. The idea behind the entry was actually to de-emphasize the garage door and driveway (parking is required by City of Portland for this site). This was done in two ways. The first was to place the garage door flush with the entry door and adjacent siding so that it would not visually "jump out" as a garage door. The garage door is clad in the same high quality marine grade plywood that lines the entry walls/ soffit and in so doing the entire entry "reads" as one element rather than simply a garage door next to an entry door. The second strategy for de-emphasizing the driveway/ garage door was to treat the entry paving more like a planted courtyard than a driveway next to a walkway. The "courtyard" is made up of mint ground cover and large format concrete pavers. The strategy was to have as much ground cover as possible while maintaining the function of walking to the entry door and driving, or riding, a vehicle to the garage. The pavers overlap where needed for function and leave voids for ground cover where it is not needed.

If you are interested in seeing entry photos (and other z-haus photos) please visit our website:

I am also happy to give tours to anyone who is interested. You can contact me at info@z-haus.net

-Ben Waechter

Paul Peterson

Can I buy 1/4 of one unit? That's all I really need. But to answer #2's complaint about noisy neighbors comes this from their website:

The demising walls between the two houses have been engineered to eliminate sound transfer from one side to the other. The system is made up of a double framed wall with a 1” air space between them to acoustically isolate one from the other. Both walls are fully insulated. The outside of each wall is clad with one layer of 1/2” plywood and two layers of 5/8” sheetrock. This assembly creates a robust acoustical separation. I have something like this in my wall in my own condo. I've never once heard the neighbor in the 18 months I've lived here.

I really like the finishes and it looks well executed for a front garage entry house. I looked for tilt and turn windows when I remodeled my place but were hard to find. I really miss those from living in Europe. I would have done something different to connect the rear entry to the backyard space. Just my opinion.

Randy Higgins

Come on people, see the forest, not the trees. This is a very smart piece of architecture. Something rare for this town. Make more Ben.


I always wondered what a Sketchup model would look like in real-life.


Although the garage may be well executed, and the developer/architect can provide all the semantic arguments for why it's been de-emphasized...it's still a garage door. And when I drive by this house that's what I see.
As for the importance "in this project to create a welcoming and pedestrian scaled entry." Really? What part is welcoming? Is it the bank wall that you see rather than the garage door, or the almost non existent connection to the inside?
This project may work well as an abstract form...however that's not how we live. Unfortunately many people are able to convince themselves through repeated verbal explanations that what they are doing it is "right" or good...but they don't seem to understand the reality of experience.

Mike M

I haven't been out to the site, but I do find the project compelling. I think that if I were to buy a unit, the first thing that I would do would be to paint the entry door a color. The rest of the white void would still somewhat hide the garage, while the color would emphasize the door and give the entry a human scale.

I'll have to run by there and take a look from the street and see if my impression holds true.



i appreciate the restraint and subtlety. people that can't see the difference between this and cheap T1-11 apartments don't have a very sensitive palette. but on the entries... perhaps if the idea was that all the rooms were universal and not so prescribed, maybe the garages could have had glass doors and double as workshops or outdoor rooms that extend out into the "landscaping". the kind of buyer this house will attract will have a cool audi or mercedes anyway...why not show it off?


Right on Ben , I am doing a remod now with glass/alum garage doors on 2 street side locations where a garage might be , and am labeling the rooms .....
'art studio' and 'home office' !
It is my long held observation that cars are designed to be outside , and are a waste of interior space.


is this a joke? i would have hoped that someone who worked for 2 of the most famous architects in the world could have designed a building with a front door. it wouldnt the least bit surprise me if the local AIA chapter and randy gragg gave this an award solely because it is a "modern" design and the architect had a resume with big names on it.

Brian Libby

Pierre, your comments are most welcome, but I don't think you're being fair. Or to put another way, perhaps the door that is most definitely there looks somewhat hidden in the photos. Nobody is praising this because it's modern architecture. It's GOOD modern architecture. I can see disagreeing with the driveway and/or garage in front, but other than that, the Z-haus is first-rate design. Have you been there? If you don't believe me, go check it out in person.

NE Fan

Funny story about NE Mallory: Last summer my wife and I are taking an evening stroll and we go past the corner of Mallory and Failing. This prostitute is staring at me from a block away and I was bracing myself for some kind of rude comment but nothing happens. Right when we're going past, this dude standing behind her makes this really loud lip-smacking sound and says "Wouldn't I like to suck on that!". We never really figured out which one of us he was referring to. So anyway, in addition to views of Mt. Hood, there's also the vibrant nightlife to chalk-up.

I really like the house though, garage and all. Too bad it's so big, I'm priced out.


I am surprised by all the negative comments. Although I am not enamored with look of the garage doors I would reserve my judgement until I was able to tour the place from the inside.

Question: Where can I find details of how the radiant floor system was designed and who was the primary contractor responsible for the installation? Thanks.


you have to love NE Fan for that post, because this blog is like some vacuum and we make these altruistic statements about what should and should not be, but get out of your chair and out of your car and take a walk down the streets where it is still affordable to build something. screw the burbs, we need to focus on the inner city and something constructive about making something true is where it is at. now - i still don't excuse the brutal entry - i know, without a bunch of warm and fuzzy moves this could have been solved better.


I had the pleasure of going through this project and it is wonderful in many ways, including the entry sequence. The scale of the entry (including the garage door) feels intimate and delicate, due to many aspects of its design - materials, detailing, landscape, and proportions.

The garage could easily be adapted into an art studio/workshop, just like any garage in any project, and a new glazed door could be added if the owner wished, for a minimum expense.

The rooms of the units are each comfortably sized and the privacy or spatial flow between them can be easily adjusted with the sliding panels. This allows tremendous flexibility for different owners, something not available with most row houses.

The original post says the units are expensive, which is incorrect. They are selling at less than $180/sf - most architects have a difficult time building anything for that figure only as hard construction costs; i.e. not including price of land, fees & permits, landscape, utilities & cost of borrowing money. It is in fact an excellent value.

Regarding the garage issue, most people want a garage - it's the way it is. Some people use the garage as a kind of flex space - storage, workshop, etc. - but to not include a garage (or space that could hold a car if necessary) in a new rowhouse or townhouse would be financial suicide.

And finally, this is one of the few projects in Portland in which the architect/developer had both the intelligence to conceive a genuinely interesting architectural concept and the courage to build it.


The proof will be if these units actually will sell anywhere close to their list price. You can buy an awful lot of house on the eastside for $500k. And what the photos cleverly don't show is that across the street is a dreadful 1970's public housing complex, complete with iron perimeter gate. Other adjacent homes are very modest as well. This project is way overdone for its context. It probably looked good on paper at the peak of the housing boom, but today my guess is that it will be a total failure financially for the developer.


The real estate facts here indicate otherwise, and the "eastside" is a big area to generalize about. $500K in Irvington will buy a tool shed with deferred maintenance. This area of NE is undergoing rapid gentrification with prices that reflect this change. Most houses here are in the $300K range, but they are small, old, poorly designed and poorly maintained. $400-450 in this area gets you about the same SF as this project in an older home in decent shape. And to do some "comps", a similar typology nearby sold for well over $600 recently.

The housing across the street is actually modest, decently designed (for its time), well-managed, well-maintained and overall quite civilized. And there is the added issue of its maintaining a semblance of cultural and economic diversity in the neighborhood which many regard as a positive aspect.

Brian Libby

I agree with Gino. I'd rather pay $500,000 for 4 bedrooms, a yard and high quality design in an established neighborhood than the same price for a 1-bedroom condo in South Waterfront. And while the public housing across the street will deter some potential buyers, it's not the eyesore people have suggested.


I like this project. It's innovative and looks very livable. It is a different mix of the benefits of shared space and a stand alone house. While I understand the objections, I think the garage is kind of cool. I don't even have a car, but living in a condo, I realize the benefit of having that type of space. The one thing I wish it had was a rooftop patio or skylights. To me, livability in an Oregonian residence has to balance two contradictory functions: light and privacy. I would like to spend time in this house to see how this design handles those competing interests. Overall, I'm glad to see this type of project get built. Thanks, Brian, for pointing out these less visible gems.


Sometimes you have to make a sacrifice to arrive at a cohesive, clear design. Every project can't be everything. I agree with Brian that the garages are an unfortunate necessity of the market but I also look at the driveway as a humane and welcoming space that could be used for neighborhood gatherings. It's like a blank slate that the people who inhabit the z's can draw upon.

In fact, the whole project is a blank slate, waiting for the it's lucky occupants to put their mark on it.

I am inspired to see a clear idea expressed fully for once!


The photos posted do not do justice to what is going on at the street level of this project. The driveways, the garage doors and the front entry doors are all well done and they relate to the street and sidewalk quite well. Judging from the comments I suspect many of the most ardent detractors haven't driven, much less walked past the project. If they had perhaps they would have appreciated the scale of the space in front of the house and how it relates to the sidewalk. They could have noted that the permeable driveway with ground cover (baby's tears) between paving elements creates a nice soft transition from the harshness of the paved street. And they could have appreciated the quite refined detailing, the fine finish and the tight joinery of the the front entry doors and the garage doors (all an elegant high gloss white that looks like a baked on finish or a high grade chinese lacquer). The entry elements are contained in a subtle framing that projects discretely from the front wall of the building and creates a strong suggestion of entry to these houses. A walk past would also make you aware of the institutional space that is directly across the street from this project and how this house is actually a very good counter-point to that space and in some ways a compliment to it. In that respect it is a unifying element for the street. This project certainly shouldn't be faulted for its' public interface. And as for garage doors, the enjoyment I always get walking through Portrero Hill, The Marina or Cow Hollow neighborhoods of San Francisco has never been diminished because of them. This is urban. When you need a front yard and a front porch maybe you choose a suburb.


You've got it all wrong. Why actually visit the site when you can make judgement on a project by looking at thumbnail sketches. Why aspire to jump off and start your own firm when you can be comfortable being an armchair critic? Much of the recent posts have spiraled down into comments about what people think is wrong with a project with no understanding of what it means to craft one.

Eric Cantona

i agree w/ charles. thumbnail pictures and a blog entry are all that's sufficient to rip apart someone else's hard work. why bother with a detailed understanding of what the project looks and FEELS like on the ground, in person? or how market or code issues effect the final outcome. garages = bad. they see a garage, so the project must be bad.

fools. i'd love to hear someone who's actually developed similar housing in an inner-city neighborhood come to the table with some of the same harsh criticisms that have been leveled here. i'm guessing that anyone who knows what it's like to tackle something like this, high design or not, would have a much different opinion.

my own personal opinion is that this is an extremely elegant take on the notion of the 'duplex'. it's great to see an architect pushing the boundaries of design and development in the real world. hopefully these units move relatively quickly so Ben and others like him will be eager to try other high designy spec housing.


It's... just a box. A well-detailed box, but a box nonetheless.

Sitting on Belmont street here and seeing all the craptastic '70s boxes, this reminds me waaaay too much of those cheapo schlocky buildings.

However, the architects were able to hide the massive interior space quite well from the street. And... completely forget the outside even exists. WTF?! This is Oregon, I thought John Yeon and Pietro Belluschi had taught us something about landscape!


I notice that you have to climb or descend seven steps to go between the kitchen to the dining room. Is that right? If that's the case, does this house have either a dumbwaiter or an elevator, or perhaps both?

Maybe the idea here is to use the long sliding door to divide the living room into a dual purpose living room/dining room.


I finally drove by the project, got out and looked at it and have to take back my comment about the cheapness of the materials. The doors and windows are actually quite nice.

The project overall does nothing at all to engage the site or the neighborhood or do anything to even approximate a connection to the outdoors and for that it is inexcusable for an architect design.


Z-Haus is quite nice. The project’s strength is found in sectional experience, minimalist relief, and volumetric simplicity. In today’s architecture of over-expression, this project is a welcome counter point to Portland’s poser craftsman variants. By over-expression I am referring to details of exposed beams, gables / dormers, oriels, stoops which reflect a history and material, but relate little to functionality and or urbanity. As far as perception from the street, the z-pattern which is carried consistently from the driveway relief (paving pattern)to the staircase and into the envelope says more about an architecture of ideas and consistency than an architecture continually burdened by past arguments. This project is a welcome addition to Portland and a healthy contrast from its neighbors.

Joshua Cohen

I was curious after reading this post, and took advantage of Ben's offer for a full house tour. Lots of talk in the comments about the entry sequence, and I was skeptical after seeing just the pictures. However, when you show up on site, its not much of an issue, at least is wasn't for me. For a potential buyer, the main issue is what does the house feel like on the inside, and I came away very impressed for several reasons.

1. The small footprint & split levels provide a sense of connection between rooms that really doesn't exist in a typical multi-level home, or even in most single-level homes with hallways between rooms.

2. The tilt-swing windows (and rear door!) are wonderful to operate. But even more striking is the placement: each room has windows on two sides, immediately adjacent to a perpendicular wall, which gets washed with light to create a wonderful lighting balance. It's almost like being outdoors.

3. The craftsmanship that went into making this home is well above what you'll find in most new houses. If I lived there, I would never tire of appreciating the care that went into building those stairs.

Glad I got to see these homes before they are sold. Perhaps it will take a little while in this market. But it makes me happy to see this kind of quality added to the neighborhood. (Thanks Ben!)


I happened to ride by this project today, and stopped to take it in. Immediately striking from a pedestrian view was not the entry and garage door - which, in opposition to the many virtual critics here, i found nicely executed - but instead, the imposing quality of the ENTIRE exterior facade. The building appears monolithic compared to the rest of the neighborhood (and the minimalist black exterior with windows appearing well above the street viewer only serves to emphasize this). Its lack of pedestrian-scale amenity made it feel mysterious and out of place.

Genuinely, i didn't necessarily find this a bad thing, as i don't subscribe to the theory that every newly-built house is Portland requires a soft entry and front porch to be good. Yet, in comparison to the rest of the street, this structure is silent and cold (and again, i found this curious, rather than highly objectionable).

One note that was not made in Brian's post, and that i think is important, is that this project faces what looked like a long run of low-income housing. These two $500K rowhouses seem screamingly upscale for the existing street value.

Jen and Trevor

We took Ben up on his tour offer and walked through the south-facing unit. The place is sweet!

Everywhere you look, the craftsmanship and materials are top-notch. I've never seen such cool tilt and turn windows (and even the back door!). The radiant floor heat is very well-done - much better and than systems you find in the cool old Rummers we saw on the Street of Eames tour. There's no ductwork to get filled with dust, and Ben installed a skylight at the top of the stairwell to create a convection "breeze." Everywhere you look, there was some cool feature or design that we never saw before. The cupboards and appliances are high-end and well-positioned in the space. It's not just the quality materials, it's how Ben thought about every detail and how people would use every corner of the space. Also, everything is energy-efficient. I bet this place would be at least an LEED gold equivalent. You can really tell that Ben put some world-class architectural thought into this creation. It's clearly a labor of love. These places would be fun to live in.

They are a great contribution to the neighborhood, which, by the way, is up-and-coming - 2 of 3 surrounding houses are undergoing remodeling. The neighbors next door to the south look hippy/Bohemian, classic NE Portland with an urban chicken coop and everything. Another neighbor has a big BBQ pit in the back yard. The neighbor to the north has a nice garden in the back yard. In other words, it's not a crappy neighborhood with pimps and hookers everywhere.

We got a great feeling about the place, and if we didn't already have a house, we'd be all over this. Anyone interested in this place should email Ben and ask for a tour. You won't be sorry.

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