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Waechter Architecture takes cues from origami for timber townhouses

Piedmont Peaks

Waechter Architecture takes cues from origami for timber townhouses

The gabled roofs and walls take cues from origami, the Japanese art of folding paper. (Jeremy Bittermann)

Origami is a new residential development by Waechter Architecture in Portland’s Piedmont neighborhood. As an urban gesture, the project occupies a full city block with twelve wood-framed townhouses. The buildings’ footprint frames a shared internal court at the back, where each residence has private space for gardens and parking. Exterior wall surfaces allow each unit to retain its own character.

The design takes inspiration from origami, the process of folding paper to create complex forms. In a play of light and shadow, the team utilized the concept of “the fold” to shape a roofscape that connects the gabled facades of each unit. Waechter decided to use Hardie siding and asphalt shingles to bring together the exterior walls and roof surface. To enhance the desired qualities of shadow relief and texture, the designers went beyond cladding with several techniques, including a flashing detail and window placement.

Aerial view of the Origami project
Aerial view (Jeremy Bittermann)

Principal Ben Waechter explained the approach, noting, “At a building scale, we folded the facade, and at each of the folds there is a special detail that visually gives the impression that the facade plane has been scored and folded. This three-piece flashing detail allows the fold to bend at a concave or convex angle. All the windows are recessed into the wall cavity rather than attached directly to the outside face of the sheathing. With the windows recessed, the trim is able to be applied perpendicular to the facade, giving it more visual depth than what is typically achieved with standard flat trim.”

Origami is a study in scale and balance for new multifamily housing. The project’s concept provided individual articulations of each unit while maintaining the sculptural impact of the whole, and in turn, created a subtle identity for the development.

Diagram of the architecture's massing
The folds of the massing articulate the development’s twelve lots. (Courtesy Waechter Architecture)

Location: Portland, Oregon
Architect: Waechter Architecture

Contractor: Yorke & Curtis
Structural engineer: Grummel Engineering
Civil engineer: KPFF
Landscape: Lango Hansen
Rainscreen: James Hardie
Concrete block:  Mutual Materials
Windows: VPI Quality Windows
Doors: Andersen, VPI Quality Windows
Cabinetwork: Euro-American Design
Paint: Miller Paint
Solid surfaces: Caesarstone
Floor and wall tiles: Emser Tile
Lighting: Kuzco Lighting, RP Lighting + Fans
Plumbing: Duravit sinks, bathtubs, toilets, and faucets