2023 AIA Housing Awards: Argyle Gardens by Holst

Argyle Gardens

Architect:  Holst Architecture

Owner:  Transition Projects

Location: Portland, Ore.

Category:  Specialized Housing

Project site: Brownfield

Building program type: Residential – multi-family, 5 or more units

Argyle Gardens is the first implementation of a modular, low-income single-adult housing model developed by the design team and Transition Projects, an organization dedicated to providing life-changing assistance to Portland’s most vulnerable residents. The first modular housing project permitted by the city, this new community of 72 housing units in the Kenton neighborhood stands as a new co-housing model whose residents share community space and other support systems. It represents a crucial step forward in the effort to design, build, and maintain affordable housing across the nation. 

As a development, Argyle Gardens comprises four different buildings, the largest of which contains 35 220-square-foot studio apartments as well as a community room, laundry facilities, and support services that make it a central hub for the community. The three separate cohousing buildings contain two units with six bedrooms, two bathrooms, and a large kitchen. Argyle Gardens opened at a pivotal moment in 2020, providing critical housing for formerly homeless and low-income Portlanders during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The overarching design concept offers maximum impact for minimal cost. To that end, the buildings are formed by modular units that were constructed off-site and further enhanced by gabled roof trusses, shingled roofs, and durable cladding that obscure the modular components from the exterior. Each of them takes on a simple rectilinear form with a bold slice removed to reveal the color and light that passes through polycarbonate panels. This approach, supported by low-income tax credits from the state of Oregon, allowed the team to reduce development costs by 31% compared to typical affordable housing projects. Those savings are passed on to residents who pay as little as $300 monthly rent. 

“The buildings have joy in color, light, and community.” – Jury comment  

Existing vegetation and steep topography on the formerly industrial site challenged the team to arrange the buildings in a way that accommodated ADA access requirements, environmental considerations, and the large staging area required for modular construction. But the resulting calibration of the siting addresses those issues successfully while minimizing direct solar heat gain on the polycarbonate walls. The project also garnered an Earth Advantage Platinum Rating because of its numerous features that reduce its impact on the environment, including drought-resistant landscaping, LED fixtures, and a rooftop photovoltaic array. 

“They fit their program well and are a nice addition to the neighborhood, especially for a use that gets a lot of pushback generally.” – Jury comment

From the outset, the design team engaged Kenton’s supportive and progressive community, which recognizes that the transformation of the site, once plagued by illegal dumping, has boosted the neighborhood’s vitality. With its efficient construction techniques and aesthetic typology, Argyle Gardens can be scaled up or down and easily adapted to suit a variety of locales, providing similar benefits for communities across the country. 

Project attributes

Year of substantial project completion: 2020

Gross conditioned floor area: 24000 sq. ft.

Project team

Project team: Modular Design and Fabrication: Mods PDX

Construction Manager: Walsh Construction

Civil Engineer: KPFF 

Structural Engineer: Allstructure  

Photographers: Portlandrone; Christopher Columbres; Josh Parte


Catherine Baker, FAIA, Chair, Nowhere Collaborative, Chicago

John DeForest, AIA, DeForest Architects, Seattle

Brian Lane, FAIA, Koning Eizenberg, Santa Monica, Calif.

Amit Price Patel, AIA, DIALOG, Vancouver, British Columbia

Michael D. Robinson, AIA, Robi4 Architecture & Planning, San Diego

AIA Framework for Design Excellence

The AIA Framework for Design Excellence represents the defining principles of good design in the 21st century. Comprised of 10 principles and accompanied by searching questions, the Framework seeks to inform progress toward a zero-carbon, equitable, resilient, and healthy built environment.

Framework for Design Excellence / Argyle Gardens

Design for Integration

Was there a design charrette?  Yes

Design for Ecosystems

Site area that supported vegetation (landscape or green roof) pre-development: 29%

Site area that supports vegetation post-development: 45%

Site area covered by native plants supporting native or migratory species and pollinators: 76%

Strategies used to promote Design for Ecosystems: Biodiversity, Dark skies, Habitat conservation, flora/fauna, Abatement of specific regional environmental concerns

Design for Water

Is potable water used for irrigation?  Yes

Is potable water used for cooling? No

Is grey/blackwater reused on-site? No

Is rainwater collected on-site? No

Stormwater managed on-site: 100%

Design for Energy

2030 Commitment baseline EUI:  49.5 kBtu/sf/yr

Predicted net EUI including on-site renewables:  29.7 kBtu/sf/yr

Reduction from the benchmark: 40%

Is the project all-electric? No

Design for Well-being

Level of air filters installed: Unknown

Was a “chemicals of concern” list used to inform material selection? Yes

Do greater than 90% of occupied spaces have a direct view to the outdoors? Yes

Design for Resources

Were embodied carbon emissions estimated for this project? Yes

Design for Change

Estimated service life: 60 years

Floor area, if any, representing adapting existing buildings: 0%

Ability to survive without utility power: Partial back-up power

Which of the following risk assessment and resilience services were provided?  Hazard identification, Hazard mitigation strategies above code

Design for Discovery

Has a post-occupancy evaluation been conducted? Yes

Building performance transparency steps taken:

  •  Present the design, outcomes, and/or lessons learned to the office
  • Present the design, outcomes, and/or lessons learned to the profession
  • Present the design, outcomes, and/or lessons learned to the public
  • Publish post-occupancy data from the project
  • Publish lessons learned from design, construction, and/or occupancy


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