Architecture Photo of Ramona
Architecture Photo of Ramona
Architecture Photo of Ramona
Architecture Photo of Ramona
Architecture Photo of Ramona
Architecture Photo of Ramona


A Pearl of Affordable Housing

Many families can't afford to live in the city of Portland. Together with our client, we took up the challenge to create affordable housing that blends with Portland’s upscale Pearl District neighborhood and reclaim space for families who have historically been priced out of the city. In response, we designed the Ramona, a six-story building with 138 affordable rental units for families earning less than 60% of median family income. An extremely tight wood-frame enclosure clad in patterned brick, with energy-efficient casement windows and low-flow water fixtures, reduces energy consumption, while solar PV panels and solar thermal water heating provides energy. Located within walking distance of the urban core’s employment opportunities, the entire building is geared towards families with children, with amenities that include a private, playground within a safe courtyard, laundry rooms, a fitness room, and a community room. In addition, the ground floor was originally leased out to Portland Public Schools for early child development program Head Start. This Hammurabi Award of Merit winner also meets the AIA 2030 challenge and is certified LEED Gold.

Portland, Oregon
  • 138 units
  • 6 stories
  • 230,762 sq. ft.
  • Completed in 2012

Affordable Housing


Architecture: Michael Bonn

Interiors: Darla Esnard

Architecture Story

Sustainably Upscale

Quality, sustainability, and historical context were our guiding principles: We designed the Ramona to look and feel like part of the Pearl. Our team designed an extremely tight wood-frame enclosure and clad the exterior in patterned brick, ideal for an urban environment due to its durability and rich appearance. High-quality casement windows and low-flow water fixtures reduce the amount of energy used by residents; solar PV panels and solar-thermal water heating means the Ramona produces much of its own energy on-site. The Ramona typifies our approach to transit-oriented development. Because it’s located on 13th Avenue in the Pearl District, with its extremely high walk score, the Ramona helps support family economics—residents can live near and walk to their workplaces. Interior bicycle parking and underground parking add to its commuter-friendliness. And by bringing affordable housing to a high-end pedestrian street in the Pearl District, with low rent, low utility costs, and easy commuting, we bring more economic inclusivity to the area. Efficiency and energy-efficient systems are an important part of the Ramona’s design. For year-round comfort, we created an innovative ventilation and exhaust system. Each apartment has freshly conditioned air distributed directly, and a heat recovery system on the roof preheats the air in the winter and precools it in the summer, saving energy and providing better indoor air quality for tenants. The Ramona’s 31,000 sq. ft. green roof—covered with soil and sedum—captures, filters, and treats stormwater, as does the courtyard through planters and layers of soil and gravel. Combined with an infiltration swale, these passive systems filter 100% of the stormwater on site.


Interior Story

Family-First Design

Named after Portland author Beverly Cleary’s character Ramona, this building deliberately focuses on families. By bringing high-quality affordable housing—low rent, low utility costs, and easy commuting—to the heart of the Pearl District, we bring more economic inclusivity to the area. All apartments are either two- or three-bedrooms, giving families enough room to live and grow. The ground level has a welcoming, comfortable community room that encourages easy social interaction among residents and families. Each floor has its own laundry room overlooking the private courtyard and its playground area, so caregivers can keep an eye on kids while doing laundry. For older kids and adults, a fitness center supports residents’ wellness without requiring gym fees or needing to leave the Ramona. Every detail matters. For the lobby ceiling and fireplace mantel, we used wood salvaged from the site. Everywhere, our color palette and materials are active and bright; the carpet in the commons area represents the nearby Willamette River, and handmade, cast iron light fixtures on the façade support local artisans. Solid granite countertops inside each apartment are both attractive and durable. Ramona exceeds typical affordable housing design where only the corridors are ducted. Because year-round comfort and clean air are critical elements of well-being, we designed an innovative ventilation and exhaust system that warms and cools each apartment. In the summer, freshly air-conditioned air is drawn directly into every apartment; in colder months, a heat recovery system in the attic preheats unit air to save energy and improve air quality.