King of the trees
Move over "Twilight" house, there's a new glass masterpiece in the forest.
William / Kaven Architecture has won the 2020 Architecture MasterPrize for their Royal home project. The Royal — which is on Royal Boulevard in the West Hills — is a series of glass and wood boxes cantilevered over a gulley that gives the residents a treehouse-like experience.
Designers Daniel Kaven and his brother Trevor William Lewis created a bird's-eye view of the trees, bushes and wildlife of this forestscape just 10 minutes from downtown Portland.
That other home is the "Twilight" home, officially called the Cullen House, near Northwest 33rd Avenue and Quimby Street. It was designed by Skylab Architecture and used in the "Twilight" vampire movies (along with many other Northwest locations). On its little dead-end street it has become a modest tourist attraction.
The Royal is even less accessible, but just as remarkable for its no-filter style of sylvan-city living.
A 10-person firm, William / Kaven designed the four-bedroom Royal on spec. It was bought for $2.55 million by a couple who, when the pandemic arrived in New York City, sold their place in Tribeca and relocated straight to Portland, where they could both still work remotely.
The architect siblings also are acting as developers. They bought a 200,000-square-foot parcel of woodland and plan to build nine houses on the already-platted lots. The Royal, at 432 N.W. Royal Blvd., is the first of the nine.
Founded in 2004, William / Kaven made waves in 2018 with an eyeball-grabbing project that had no chance of getting built. A pair of 1,000-foot skyscrapers interlinked by a botanical garden 680 feet in the air was passed over for the U.S. Post Office site in the Pearl District, also known as the Broadway Corridor.
Plans included an underground bullet train hub linking Portland to Seattle and Los Angeles.
This one is more arboretum than hothouse.
"Our attention was to build something that really integrates into the forest without displacing much of the forest area," Kaven told the Tribune.
"The idea was to live in the trees, in this gorgeous cantilevered box. When you're in the house, it has this amazing feeling of peacefulness. You can hear the birds, you can see the leaves change color, you can see the trees swaying. When we had that snowstorm out of nowhere last year I went up there during that and it was just gorgeous."
It is heated by an efficient heat pump.
"The interesting thing about new construction, they're almost always very efficient. I live in a house that was built in 1907 and it leaks like a sieve."
Kaven witnessed its energy efficiency.
"I spent a lot of time in that (Royal) house, and I paid the utility bills while we were closing on it. You almost don't need any air conditioning because of the mass of the forest and the cross-circulation from being able to open up the windows," he said.
To stabilize temperatures, the floor to ceiling "low E" windows reflect infrared rays during the summer and have insulating gas between the doubled panes. There also is a lot of insulation between floors, which damps down noise.
The fireplace, which can run on propane or wood, is served by a chimney that forms a visual spine of the house. White concrete supports are visible beneath the home, instead of the usual stilts favored in this neck of the woods, the Balch Creek watershed.
The consulting engineer was KPFF and the contractor was Metcalf Design & Construction.
New Yorkers know best
City people are on the move, and the firm's timing was good for a luxury, leafy hideaway.
"If there's anything that happened in quarantine or in the coronavirus, a pretty substantial migration of people around the U.S. is realizing their dream to have more space in the larger economic centers," Kaven said. "If my job was truly a remote job … we have fancy offices that put the brakes on things like that. But for people who work in tech or for themselves, you don't need to be in the big metropolis anymore."
He said the architectural style is "rooted in Modernism, but fundamentally, there's this massive connection between the inside and the outside. Holistically, as an architecture firm, we don't really separate the disciplines of landscape design and interior architecture and architecture."
SteeI beams hold up the chimney and concrete will keep the home from ever sliding down the hill in an earthquake or landslide.
"It's very much rooted into the ground. The foundation is a solid concrete mass that goes deep into the Earth. It's a very heavy and rooted house," Kaven said.
With the Royal house, visitors approach from above, level with the living area. The master bedroom is one level down. Both have views with no road or yard in the way, they look out and down into the forest.
It's in a conservation zone, so the new owners cannot remodel or add on.
"When you're selling houses that are priced at that value, people typically care a lot about design, and they want to ensure the architectural integrity," Kaven said.
Architecture bespoken here
Other William / Kaven projects include Silica, a heavy-timber and glass office building on North Williams Ave. and Parallax, a 66 unit apartment building that just completed construction. But single-family homes are a fun way to use the imagination.
"Our clients come to us with a lot (the land), and they come to us with a program," said William / Kaven Architecture principal Daniel Kaven. "Like 'these are the things that we want in a house.' And we create their bespoke home for them."
Another of their Northwest Portland homes is soon to be featured in the Wall Street Journal's style pages.
Skyview is across from the dog park near Chapman Elementary School and Wallace Park, at Northwest 25th Avenue and Raleigh Street.
That home was first designed right up to the property lines, which annoyed some neighbors who prefer the look of their leafy yards and traditional wooden homes.
So, the firm built upward instead, albeit still within the allowed height limit.
William / Kaven Architecture
4075 N. Williams Ave.
Phone: (503) 841-5239
In 2021 Daniel Kaven will publish his first book, "Architecture of Normal," about the evolution of architecture in the American West as advanced by transportation technology.
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