The Casa Torre v2 is in production! Ground has been broken for this new 3,000 square foot tower nestled in the west hills of Portland, gazing serenely across at the lush forest at the edge of Portland’s Japanese Garden.
The house I designed is modern, formal, somewhat dramatic, tall, even a little imposing as it sits on the forested site, three stories tall, carved into the hillside, opening on its lowest level onto a large natural garden. The house looks southward toward Forest Park, just behind the Japanese Garden, enjoying full sun from morning until the last rays of the afternoon sun by virtue of a small canyon that runs through the Arboretum.
Originally composed of three full bedroom suites and as many various studies and dens, all spread across 3,800 square feet, the house was redesigned to be a slightly more modest 3,000 square feet. I designed the house to take the greatest advantage of the landscape and so all three levels are elegantly tied to the land, interconnected by trails that meander across the site.
Here is the original Casa Torre, v1, clad in brick as I then imagined it.
Brick and plaster. Dark, charcoal plaster, like the Casa Nera?
Or white plaster like the Casa Bianca?
Casa torre will fit into a beautiful site in the Portland hills which calls out to me for a monumental but simple tower around which the forest swirls. Through the forest, Portland’s Japanese garden beckons and inspires me to find a place for a Japanese sensibility in the house and the landscape.
The layout of the house derives from the context of the hillside site: access to the street at the top, room for a large, flat terrace at the bottom, and the idyllic forest view toward the south where the sun is. I placed the main living rooms (kitchen, dining, living) at the ground level, with a direct connection to the garden and the outdoors.
The foundation is based on my special hybrid earth retention / foundation / landscape / decorative architectural shotcrete system which can make hillside construction a pleasure, and cost up to a quarter of the price of conventional hillside foundation systems.
Next we find the framing completed. The house will be built with conventional but high quality engineered lumber products including engineered composite 2×8 wall studs for ultra-straight 12′ high walls. The house is sheathed in real plywood (of course!) and not the mold and deformation hungry OSB board used on every other project.
For climate control, the 98% high efficiency (meaning how much of the energy you use stays in the house) mechanical room is ready to go. In my opinion, this is the state of the art, providing the best quality environment (comfort, health, efficiency, ease of use) possible, and for a fraction of the cost of more popular but vastly less efficient radiant, solar, or “old-world” systems.
The house will feature tilt /turn windows by Innotech (the best!), hand applied stucco exterior in a rough “scratch” pattern, dark oak true quarter sawn 5″ floors, and Venetian plaster interiors. Once again, Peter Rigutto, of Classico Marmo, will furnish exquisite marble counters. And count on unusual, elegant plumbing fixtures!
I have worked on hillside houses enough lately to really try to come to terms with the demands of the forest, which are not insignificant, especially in the presence of tall trees. The form of a tower seems appropriate to me, both in its reflection of the dominant verticality of the trees and as a prudent consolidation of the footprint where every inch built means displacing more jungle. I knew that I wanted to use masonry, not wood, and initially was drawn to brick. Yet plaster managed to press it’s way back into my mind, especially after having the opportunity to see it used to such dramatic effect on the Casa Nera. The plaster walls both counter and mimic the vocabulary of the forest: hard, linear, man made, and yet soft, natural, and very much of the earth. And not to mention, it’s one of the few materials we have that readily stands up to the challenge of moisture that the forest provides.
Here are some brick towers that have inspired me.