Case Study: Meadow House by Waechter Architecture

As the name suggests, Meadow House benefits from a next-door neighbor that’s not usually found in an urban grid: a preserved grassland with walking paths. Years ago, the landowner turned it over to a nonprofit but kept a 100-by-100-foot corner parcel. This was later sold to Ben Waechter’s client, a semi-retired woman who happens to be his stepmother. Located in the College Hill neighborhood of Eugene, near the University of Oregon, her new house rests as a solid, serene presence that metaphorically absorbs the community meadow surrounding it. 

“Her son and stepdaughter live across the meadow and have a couple of young kids,” says Ben Waechter, FAIA. “She wanted a house close to the grandkids, and this was a special property. She asked for a single-story house of about 2,300 square feet with three bedrooms and two and a half baths. That was about it. The real design driver was the meadow, trying to elevate the experience of the meadow with whatever this new house would become.”

His initial sketches explored ways to embrace the adjacent public space, called Madison Meadow, without being completely exposed to the locals enjoying the park. That, and the square-shaped lot, led to the development of a squarish courtyard house with a private meadow, or “clearing,” at its center. “On one hand, the public meadow has big beauty to it; we wanted the building to be subservient but also have a scale appropriate to the largeness of the meadow,” Ben says. “So we envisioned the house as having a sculptural presence.”

The completed design accomplishes the delicate task of standing out while blending in. With its walls, roof, and soffits wrapped in standing seam metal, the 2,000-square-foot house reads as a monolithic, flat-roofed structure one and a half stories tall, “as if carved from a single shape,” Ben says. “The idea was that the simple shape would fit well within the bigness of the meadow” while respecting the scale of mostly one-story houses around it. Inside, however, the cantilevered rooflines slope down toward the courtyard. Pitching all the rainwater to the inside eliminated the need for a gutter system and its seasonal upkeep. More poetically, the design invites the owner to experience rain as a kind of theater. “When it rains, the roof is a dynamic sculpture in a way,” Ben says. “You see the water falling in sheets if it’s really pouring.” The courtyard’s frothy native grasses were selected for their tolerance to the heavier downpours that occur in winter, and an overflow system diverts excess water outside the building footprint.

A Sense of Place

Much like the natural world outside its door, the architecture achieves a harmonious balance. Ben envisioned the floor plan as four pavilions—one anchoring each corner of the courtyard—with the cantilevered rooflines providing continuous outdoor cover. Linking the pavilions are four terraces, or breezeways—two open and two enclosed with glass—that invite courtyard living in all kinds of weather. Visitors enter through a gate on the north between the one-car garage and the entry/kitchen pavilion, which contains a mudroom/laundry, powder room, kitchen, and pantry. Abutting it on the southeast is a full-glass dining room and lounge breezeway that connects to a third solid pavilion housing two guest bedrooms and a bath. A 90-degree turn takes you to the second glassy space—the living room—and then to the enclosed primary suite on the southwest corner. Completing the rotation, an open terrace between the bedroom and garage faces both the larger preserve and the interior meadow.

In the best architectural tradition, the exterior responds to the landscape’s scale, but inwardly it makes an almost magical shift to human size. The feeling comes as a surprise. “When you walk into the courtyard, because of the angle of the roof, it’s a more intimate scale because you’re perceiving the lower eave,” Ben says. The metal cladding is Bonderized, a dipped coating typically used as a primer that is durable on its own. “It isn’t a solid color; there’s some visual movement that will patina,” he says. Although the material and application are unusual for a house, his stepmother trusted him with the choice. “A painted metal wouldn’t fit in as well with the natural tones and textures of the meadows,” he says. “Even though maybe she wouldn’t have thought of it, she liked the idea that it doesn’t need to be repainted, and because of the form, there are no gutters to maintain.”

It was builder Randy Chalus’ first introduction to the material, too. One hurdle for him and the metal subcontractor, who builds pole barns, was making sure the standing seams on the roof and walls were perfectly aligned. In the absence of gutters, another puzzle was creating the cleanest look possible with custom metal flashing and positioning the drip edge precisely to shed water into a gravel gutter along the planting perimeter. 

“It was a matter of combining the reality of what rain does and what they were looking for,” Randy says. “Between me, the guy doing the work, and the guy bending the metal, it was something we had to work through.”

Beneath the trussed roof, the attic space contains forced-air heating and cooling equipment.

Interior materials are durable, calming, and recurring to keep the focus on the open-air courtyard: slab-on-grade terraces, white oak floors and quartersawn white oak cabinetry, quartz-composite countertops, Sheetrock walls, tiled baths, and aluminum-clad wood windows. 

The meadow-within-a-meadow scheme is a satisfying example of the firm’s guiding design approach to all of its work, which they call the Clarity Project. “The outcome of organizational clarity is a building that is easy to understand upon first glance,” they write. “The resulting form is made up of solids and voids, where the solids have purpose embedded within them and the voids invite us to inhabit the building….Clarity in experience leads to a sense of being more grounded, more comforted, and more at home.” It’s certainly an apt description for this indoor-outdoor dwelling, which honors the preserve’s signature character and value to the community.

Meadow House

Eugene, Oregon

Project Credits

Architect: Ben Waechter, FAIA, principal in charge; Lisa Kuhnhausen, project architect, Waechter Architecture, Portland, Oregon

Builder: Chalus Construction

Structural engineer: Grummel Engineering

Project size: 2,000 square feet

Site size: 0.22 acre

Construction cost: Withheld

Photography: Lara Swimmer

Key Products

Dishwasher/range/range hood: Miele

Doors: Sierra Pacific

Faucets: MGS, Watermark

Lighting: WAC, Foscarini, Artemide, Kuzko

Paint: Benjamin Moore

Recessed roller shades: Lutron

Refrigerator: Blomberg

Showerheads: Watermark

Sinks: Kraus, Duravit

Toilet: Duravit, Starck

Tub: Blu Bathworks

Washer/dryer: Samsung

Windows: Sierra Pacific