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Eastmoreland architect addresses challenges of urban infill

by: Eric Norberg, The townhouses were under construction last November. This view is from the west.

The four new townhouses at the corner of S.E. 47th and Knight Street, a block east of Woodstock Boulevard, are formally called 'Woodstock Row'. Architect Rod Merrick explains that, 'the term 'row' in the English tradition describes a group of houses that define a street.'

These gabled 1,700 to 1,900-square-foot homes join a half dozen other groups of row houses in Southeast and Northeast Portland that Merrick has designed. Earlier in his career he was the architect for the Eastmoreland Golf Clubhouse, for the vestry addition to Sellwood's Oaks Pioneer Church, and for the park restrooms in Sellwood Riverfront Park and elsewhere.

Located in the Woodstock Village Center, the houses bear the trademark of Merrick design--an architectural response to the neighborhood context, with refined attention to detail. Gabled roofs, bay windows, and dormers reflect some of the older residences in the area.

'The big front porches and the rhythm of columns are a continuation of the adjacent storefronts and a transition to the older houses down the street,' says Merrick, who sees the Woodstock neighborhood as a maturing town center. 'The challenges of this site were the immediate surroundings--an under-developed bank site across the street, and the blank wall of the building behind the units.'

The assets of the Woodstock residential area are just a short walk away. Proximity to the public library, schools, churches, grocery, hardware and variety stores, coffee houses, bars and restaurants provides an increasingly attractive lifestyle for those who want to avoid high gas prices and traffic. And some just like the small-town atmosphere.

Merrick, a resident of Eastmoreland for thirty years, has a solid, highly respected reputation as an architect who understands the local and regional challenges of town planning and urban infill projects. His work is described as meeting the challenges of the late 20th and early 21st century with unique design and sustainable features.

'The energy efficiency of the 'common wall', the relatively long roof overhangs, and the deep porches on the west side for shade are some of the sustainable features of Woodstock Row,' notes Merrick. 'The copper downspouts, which aesthetically help define each unit, and are indicative of the quality of materials used, direct water from the roof to an onsite drywell.' Existing mature trees in the parking strip were left for shade and visual privacy.

In a real estate market where the trend is toward smaller household size and less yard upkeep, these townhouses attract young people and empty-nesters. Merrick says, 'They provide generous loft-like space on the upper level, as well as decks, porches and places for privacy and guests.' An ample two-car garage for each unit can be used for storage or a shop or studio if the household chooses not to drive.

The unexpectedly spacious features of these houses can surprise those who enter, says Merrick. 'Some people buy value on the basis of square footage, but they don't consider the quality of space. These units have very generous living and dining room areas. The two center homes have the added amenity of four extra feet of width. Each also has two bedrooms and a study/home-office/den. Some have described the kitchen as 'fantastic' in terms of design and space.'

In addition to his work for individuals and private developers, Merrick has spent twenty-five years contributing to institutional and governmental master planning and to building and industrial design in Oregon, Washington, and other western states. He chaired the City of Portland's Pedestrian Advisory Committee from 1994 to 2006, and currently serves on the Portland Mall Citizens Advisory Committee and the MLK Viaduct Design Review Advisory Committee.

As Vice-president of the Oregon chapter of 'Architects Without Borders', Merrick is part of an international network of architects and students who provide design and planning support to communities in need around the world.

To see photos of the collection of townhouses and other structures designed by Merrick and for links to Architects Without Borders and other local and regional projects, visit the Internet website: www.merrick-archplan.com.