Two seven-foot-diameter sequoias had ensured over the years that this half-acre site in Portland, Oregon, remained undeveloped. For our clients, finding this land was the first step in their move back to the Oregon neighborhood where they had both grown up. These clients and I had become good friends, and seasoned collaborators, when the firm designed a previous home for them in California. They now envisioned a house that departed from the traditional painted white colonial homes of the area and connected in a meaningful way to the unusual site .
Our design challenge from the outset was to create a building that would respond to and enhance the presence of the giant trees. The building was conceived as three independent structures; a garage and studio; a main house with bedrooms; and a pool house and mechanical structure. By proportioning the overall mass into smaller units, we were able to keep the main house extremely narrow, only twenty-one feet wide, and slide it between the sequoiaat the center of the building site and the property line. This unusual design was the key to protecting the heritage trees.
We vertically stretched the main structure, giving it oversized glazing that rises two stories and allows views from the interior along the trunk and up into the tree branches. The center ridge beam in the main structure is nearly thirty vertical feet from the floor. The axis determined by the two sequoias organizes the relationship of building elements including the pool house, the garage/studio structure, and the curved walls that intersect the main house. Through the different expressions of this axis, the built structure echoes the presence of the giant trees. The structure becomes a sympathetic and harmonious work of architecture, a narrative of the presence of the trees.