Ridge House

Project Type / New Construction
Size / 2,400 sf

Photography / Ema Peter

Ridge House is a single-family detached home situated along the crest of a topographic ridge in Portland’s Alameda neighborhood. With its compact footprint and crystalline form, the architecture is shaped as a direct response to the specific features of the site – the dramatic topography as well as opportunities for views connecting the foreground, midground, and background elements that define the site. The house is perched at the crest of a hill, with the street sloping away laterally to the west; the site also falls away substantially from the street to the rear property line – providing exceptional picturesque vistas to the south and southwest.

The architectural approach was to create a concrete plinth upon which a crystalline wood-clad box is perched. The concrete plinth acts to retain the site and organize the landscape, while also striking a horizontal datum that marks the sloping topography of the site. The floor plan is a skewed rectangle – responding to the primary vista to the southwest, while also creating a setback for the entry from the street. The main floor of the house is a ’great room’ concept (kitchen, dining, and living rooms together in a single space) with a double-height skylit living room that features a delicate folded plate steel stair. The sloping site affords a lower level that aligns with the natural grade at the rear of the house, creating a bright and spacious family room, yoga/meditation space, and temporary guest room.

The skewed floor plan and diagonal ridge beam create a dynamic form which cantilevers at the acute corners of the site, creating the experience of a commanding and dramatic prow from the street. The angled roof form also creates dynamic roof angles for the interior spaces and tapered window openings.

The clients are a female couple with two kids – a 6-year-old son and 12-year-old daughter. When they originally purchased the property, they had intended to build a modernist renovation and addition to the existing house. The architect team worked for over a year to explore ways to adapt the existing structure, which was originally built in 1918 and was suffering from a failing foundation. Upon determination that entirely new foundation work was the only viable way forward, the architect worked creatively to design a smaller modernist house that worked within the constraints of the budget.

In downsizing from their previous house, the clients were very concerned about decreasing their living space. The previous house was considerably larger overall, yet the basement was rarely used since it was situated below grade. Maximizing the quality of the living space across all three levels of the house provides spatial separation between the different aspects of the functional program while also affording a wider range of experiences in relation to the site. There are several distinctive large trees (on this lot and neighbouring lots) that are intentionally framed by the various window openings. While the modernist form of the house is a contrast to the neighbouring character homes, the dark form blends beautifully into the treed landscape along the top of the ridge.

The Ridge House is an example of an essentialist approach to residential architecture – employing the ‘Less But Better’ ethos of legendary German industrial designer Dieter Rams. The design employs a restrained material palette – the interior materials are concrete, drywall, and white oak, accented with blackened steel detail elements. The exterior is clad in dark-stained vertical cedar board with black metal accents. An integrated wood-burning stove was installed, to afford an energy efficient warm for rainy days in the Pacific Northwest.


Dwell Magazine 2019 March / April Edition