A Seattle-based architect is proving that high quality doesn’t have to come at a high price. Matt Wittman of architecture and landscaping studio Wittman Estes acted as the architect, developer and contractor for Tsuga Townhomes, a trio of sustainable townhomes with living roofs, eco-friendly finish materials and a rainwater collection system. Completed for $185 per square foot, the three-unit urban infill project costs 45% less to construct than the Seattle average.

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Two images: to the left, a streetview of a tall home with a wood panel facade and large windows. A yellow tree and old brown car are in front of the home. To the right, an image of the same home from a side angle, showing another townhome behind it.

According to the architect, a rapid rise in the city’s construction costs has resulted in a high volume but low-quality housing market. In 2018, average construction costs in Seattle ranked among the highest in the world at $280 per square foot, leading to an onslaught of homes built from low-cost, low-quality materials that often lacked character and connection to nature. 

Related: Luxury apartments feature underground rec club and a massive green roof

Two images: to the left, a tall townhome with a garage on the ground floor. The building is split in to by a stairwell that can be seen through large windows. To the right, an entrance to the home partially obscured by greenery.

Wittman chose to place the three dwellings on an environmentally critical 5,040-square-foot sloped site to reduce costs, only permissible because the slope had been artificially created by the construction of a nearby avenue. Located at the edge of Highland Park, the site overlooks the Duwamish River.

A living room with a stairwell to the left and a gray sofa on the right. In the middle of the room are two chairs, one white and one black, a round wood coffee table and a fireplace.

The main house sits along a busy section of Highland Park Way, while the duplex is constructed into the hillside. Both utilize strategically placed, large south-facing windows to get the most out of the view, highlight the trees and natural elements of the area, allow ample sunlight to maximize solar load and provide access to the outside decks and terraces.

A kitchen area with a rectangular wood dining table and six chairs in the colors white, orange and green. In the background, there is a kitchen with white countertops.

Sustainability strategies not only help create a healthy living environment inside the townhomes but reduce energy use and costs as well. The design features a series of green roofs and bioretention planters to capture rainwater for the plants while reducing runoff. Energy-efficient mechanical systems go beyond the required coding for insulation, achieving a Four Star Built Green Certification. The series of green roofs, terraces and porches also create a buffer zone between private and open spaces, gradually filtering through thoughtful landscaping.

On the right, a person looks out across a green terrace area.

+ Wittman Estes

Images © Wittman Estes