Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Portland Courtyard Housing Design Competition

Design competitions are alive and well: The City of Portland recently sponsored an ideas competition to explore how courtyard housing could provide attractive, flexible, affordable, and quality living environments at relatively high densities. The City retained AIA-SWO’s own Michael Fifield, AIA and Mark Gillem, AIA to serve as competition consultants and administrators. Both were on hand this past Tuesday to present the results of the competition to a gathering of the Willamette Valley Section of the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA Oregon); I was pleased to attend the meeting and was astonished by the sheer number of the submissions (257 entries from around the globe), the high quality of the presentations, and the important goals and principles highlighted by the design concepts. I was also very impressed by the focus of the resultant competition catalogue, which was much more than a simple collection of the winning entries: Significantly, the publication distilled the best conceptual ideas to a set of principles that can easily be applied to future courtyard housing projects for a variety of different sites and conditions.

The competition entrants were asked to address several key challenges:
  • How can courtyard housing be designed to serve as an attractive option for families with children?

  • How can courtyards serve as useable outdoor space while also providing environmental sustainability benefits, act as a setting for community interaction while also respecting privacy needs, or serve as a pedestrian-oriented space while also accommodating cars?

  • How can courtyard housing avoid a purely inward focus and contribute to Portland’s tradition of street-oriented urbanism?
The competition entrants had the option to submit a design for two different hypothetical sites:
  • An inner Portland infill site, 100' wide by 100' deep, with 4-10 units oriented to a shared courtyard with one parking space per unit.
  • An eastern Portland infill site, 95'-wide by 180' deep, with 7-17 units, also oriented to a shared courtyard with one parking space per unit.

The courtyards could be pedestrian-only or mixed pedestrian/vehicular courtyards.

Five fundamental general design principles emerged from the competition and were expressed as goals for the design of courtyard housing:

  1. Create versatile courtyards

  2. Build functional homes

  3. Use sustainable solutions

  4. Make interior/exterior connections

  5. Respond to the context

The competition jury (see 1 below) selected winning schemes that successfully addressed the challenge of designing family-friendly, higher density housing, and also clearly achieved the goals listed above. All of the top winners effectively communicated the importance of their ideas, which were surprisingly diverse, imaginative, and innovative.

The City of Portland will next facilitate the construction of real projects that embody the best aspects of the winning designs by conducting a design-build competition that will partner developers with the designers from the ideas competition.

Read more about the Portland Courtyard Housing Design Competition at You can download a PDF version of catalogue of the project and the winning entries from the website and also view all 257 design submissions.

1. The following were the members of the competition jury:

Michael Pyatok, FAIA, Principal, Pyatok Architects; Professor, University of Washington

David Miller, FAIA, Principal, Miller-Hull Partnership; Professor, University of Washington

Nancy Merryman, FAIA, Principal, Robertson Merryman Barnes Architects, Portland, Oregon

Cynthia Girling, ASLA, Professor and Chair, Department of Landscape Architecture, University of British Columbia

Clare Cooper Marcus, Professor Emeritus, Departments of Architecture and Landscape Architecture, University of California, Berkeley

Sam Grawe, Editor, Dwell magazine

Loren Waxman, Developer, Portland, Oregon, Portland Design Commissioner

No comments: