Bowstring Truss HouseA former auto shop achieves lightness through structure
Works Partnership Architecture (W.PA) has been lauded on a national scale for its progressive interior projects. Pushing the envelope of the “form follows function” dictum that undergirds modern architectural practice, this converted auto shop in Portland, Oregon is representative of the firm’s refreshing approach to adaptive reuse. In lieu of a traditional ceiling, white-painted I-beams work to create an illusion of aerial suspension, offset by the grounding influence of the ash timber used throughout the residence.
Photograph by Matthew Williams.
Known as the “Bowstring Truss House,” the name derives from its most predominant architectural feature: A bowstring truss—a load-bearing structure consisting of an arched beam (the bow) and horizontal beam (the string) joined by diagonal members—is employed to span wide, column-free spaces. While most commonly used in bridges, during the early twentieth century the truss was adopted in roof structures for venues like car dealerships, repair shops, department stores and bowling alleys. Inspired by the building's commercial history, W.PA set its design goal: "to maintain the vast trussed ceiling and the open floor plan, while inserting a standard residential program that the clients could live among."
Photograph by Matthew Williams
To that end, the designers deployed a 'box' tactic, dividing the 5,000-square-foot space into clusters of private, walled-off rooms. "A strategy was adopted to insert the program into the shell in a loose arrangement of programmed boxes,” the architects explained. The overall effect is one of a carefully demarcated floor plan, aesthetically organized by the overarching bowstring trusses.
In the center of the house, a glass-enclosed garden resembles a vitrine and includes a hammock, maple tree and moss. The space is open to the elements and functions like a Roman compluvium, allowing rainwater to enter through the unroofed court. A continuation of the building's interior-exterior attitude, the design was inspired by Richard Serra’s Torqued Ellipses, which the architects referenced for the work’s artful use of negative space.
“The pixelated subset of elements, including Saarinen's furniture, create a broad spectrum of public and private spaces, while never competing with the recognizable order of the roof.”
Photograph by Matthew Williams.
Furniture was used to differentiate public from private space by articulating intended use. Two red Womb Chairs upholstered with Cato define the edge of the living room, taking advantage of the pools of sunlight that filter through the skylight. Near the kitchen island, a pair of Saarinen Executive Armless Chairs flank a Willy Guhl Spindel Table and provide seating for reading the morning paper. “The pixelated subset of elements, including Saarinen's furniture, create a broad spectrum of public and private spaces, while never competing with the recognizable order of the roof," says W.PA.
Design: Work Partnership Architecture
Photography: Matthew Williams
All photographs are courtesy of Matthew Williams.