PORTLAND – A deliberate exercise in delicate sculptural minimalism meets a respectful contextual response meets an adaptable, multi-use structure meets a densification project. Any of these could be used to describe the Overton 19 Townhouses, yet on their own, they would fail to describe the newest project by Works Partnership Architecture.

Located on a street corner, in a mixed-use neighbourhood to the north west of Portland’s downtown district, the project’s subtly undulating façade conceals a number of different rental units, namely five lofts, a glazed commercial space marking the street corner, and two apartment units which appear to hover above it and emphasise the building’s sculptural quality driven by its immediate context.

The units themselves are compact, and directed solely at the street – as the building also acts as a buffer between the street and the owner’s other property on an adjacent lot. However, the thoughtful design of the façade – in which the mullions form an effective privacy screen – sees large areas of glazing nevertheless allowing the interior to be flooded with natural light.

Inside, the building services are pushed towards a party wall, creating a neutral, open-plan space, which offers the future tenants the possibility to erect temporary partitions. Combined with rough, restrained finishes, the architects hope that with time, the units will form a small community whose occupants can adapt and use the space to their own needs.

The question raised by this project is one that perpetually fascinates many architects: if the surrounding, vibrant urban tissue has the capacity to absorb light-industry, small-scale commercial and retail functions, a diverse range of residential lifestyles, as well as any imaginable combination of these, why shouldn’t a building?

Photos Joshua Jay Elliot