A temporary settle

December 6, 2011 at 2:56 pm | In architecture, Portland | 2 Comments

My updates have lately dwindled to practically zero. I’m in limbo of sorts, arguably a continuation of life-as-usual, but now in a different place.

For the time being, I’m in Portland Oregon. Interesting city. Been here for about a week, busy settling in and heading out when possible. My little furry friend, Jigger the Dog, makes things a bit tedious, since I have to travel by car to the various neighborhoods I want to explore. Public transit would take him, IF I had a pet carrier – and IF he tolerated being put in one… But I don’t, and he doesn’t. So we drive, in Portland. Yeah, I know…

Yesterday, I drove to one of Portland’s southeast neighborhoods to check out a house that was featured in the Wall Street Journal‘s real estate section: A Bicyclists’ House Built For Two. The article (by Nancy Keates), not to mention the comments, are fascinating. There’s a picture slide show, as well as a video. Long story short: pro-cyclist and financier husband build themselves a rather expensive and very modernist-in-style house in a neighborhood that’s otherwise pleasant, but unassuming – both in price and style. The result: a certain kind of polarization. Some people love the house, others loathe it – and loathe what they perceive as the owners’ hubris and sense of entitlement. (The house came in at ~$1.5million; the neighborhood clocks in at about 1/3 that price.)

So, yeah, it’s partly a NIMBY issue. Here’s a screen shot from Google maps of the street view:

 

You can see that the bungalow on the right (the house’s left) is well and truly dwarfed by the new addition to the neighborhood, but contrary to what some of the comments on the Wall Street Journal article’s board would suggest, there are a number of 2 to 2 1/2 story houses in the neighborhood, which are easily as tall as this new one.

The difference is that the other tall (or big) houses have a traditional shape (no flat roofs), whereas this one doesn’t.

It seems to be the Dwell Magazine look that sets some people’s teeth on edge, which is really too bad. It’s a handsome house, if you’re a fan of that aesthetic. But given that Dwell has inspired satire sites (see Unhappy Hipsters), it’s an understatement to say that the style is not universally loved and has to be handled sensitively when introduced into an established neighborhood. On the other hand, my gut response wouldn’t include defending the bungalow on the right… I think I’d prefer comparing and evaluating this house’s aesthetic (and other) merits by comparing it to the best of what’s already in the neighborhood.

Regarding the perception by some that the owners have an altogether too well-developed sense of entitlement, the comments board points to an interesting story: the owners held a charity fund-raiser in conjunction with one of the local brew houses. The goal was to raise money to send the professional cyclist to Germany for a world cycling event. Not sure about the details around that, but people will jump on something like this as proof of social disingenuousness. The gist of that argument runs approximately like this: If they can afford to build themselves a $1.5million house to satisfy their cycling passions [sic], why do they need to appeal to the public to raise funds to travel to competitions?

Based on my visit to the street yesterday, my impression was that the house does “stick out,” which suggests it’s out of scale. And yet it’s really not the scale that’s salient, but rather the house’s style. If it were in a traditional style, hardly anyone would balk at its scale (which, as I noted, is matched by a number of other houses in the neighborhood). No one would be talking about its price tag, either. But because its style is very salient, the issue of the fundraiser comes to serve as “proof” (however spurious) of its perceived effrontery.

One last thing: nowhere in the article is there any mention of a very interesting public feature I noticed on that street: it’s lined with bioswales. I haven’t seen those on any other residential street in Portland, and in fact haven’t seen too many of them anywhere. Portland has a page about its use of bioswales, but this street isn’t actually mentioned. I wonder if there are other examples in the city?

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