Like many architects, Bill Neburka and Carrie Strickland Schilling, AIA, dislike the notion that good design is an exclusive luxury. “We kind of bristle at the idea that architecture only exists at $300 a square foot,” says Neburka, co-principal (with Schilling) of Portland, Ore.–based Works Partnership Architecture. So when local builder/developer Ryan Zygar of Tamarack Homes approached the pair about designing a modern, moderately priced spec house in a subdivision 25 miles outside Portland, they sprung into action.

Zygar wanted to challenge himself and his staff to build a different kind of house for the same cost, in the same amount of time, and using the same materials and techniques as a standard production home. “I had always wondered, ‘Why can’t you capture modern architecture at a price?’” he says. For their part, Neburka and Schilling were eager to see whether they could work within an existing system of building and budgeting and still achieve their desired design quality. Used to creating custom homes, they found they had to adjust their drawings to dovetail with typical production building methods. “It was a great education for us, understanding how these houses get built,” Neburka says. Adds Schilling, “It’s fast, inexpensive, and efficient.”

The final product took 70 days from start to finish, including design time. While that figure fell slightly above the target the participants had set, they feel confident that next time they’d be able to streamline the process using the knowledge they gained here. Completed in July, the 1,904-square-foot home features an upside-down floor plan, with the main living spaces and master suite above a garage, two bedrooms, and an entry hall. Neburka and Schilling pulled apart the second floor to create a private courtyard. “We wanted to turn the house inside out and see what was possible for making exterior space,” Neburka says. The courtyard also provides the interior rooms with extra opportunities for natural light and cross-ventilation.

The Ridgefield, Wash., house was featured in the local Parade of Homes and even won the program’s “Outstanding Architecture” award. It’s currently for sale, priced at $327,000. Zygar, Neburka, and Schilling hope to work together on more iterations of their prototype as soon as the housing market improves. Visit for more information on the project.