Guest Architect: Steve W. James Downing, Thorpe and James Boulder, Colo.


Q: How do you design high-density attached housing that fits into a single-family, small-lot neighborhood?

A: Adding a multifamily element to a single-family community varies the product lines and price points, and it creates social diversity with housing for first-time and move-down buyers. A community can accommodate a variety of housing products as long as common design elements and scale exist. A multifamily building can be made to look like a single-family home by varying the roof forms and using architectural elements such as dormers, bay windows, and chimneys.

Integrate multifamily into the plan by using duplexes, four-plexes, and eight-plexes, as opposed to larger building components commonly designed for single-use, multifamily projects. To mitigate the scale of large package lots and avoid the condo stigma of tuck-under parking, create smaller, more intimate parking bays and use berming to decrease exposure to external streets. Mixing rear-loaded and front-loaded single-family homes, as well as creating a variety of architectural styles, will yield the look of an eclectic old neighborhood and disguise the multifamily structures within the single-family fabric.

In the mix: If the scale, details, roof forms, and character are similar, multifamily buildings will blend seamlessly with single-family homes. The narrower units (duplexes and four-plexes) are accessed via rear alleys, similar to small-lot cottages.

Eight is enough: This eight-plex building features a simple pinwheel footprint with four stacked flats per floor.

  • The upper-unit loft provides an opportunity for a bedroom/bath suite tucked into the roof dormer.

  • The pinwheel design creates all corner units with windows on two sides.

  • Lower- and upper-level units have separate ground-level entries. Variety pack: Two-, four-, and eight-unit multifamily structures are easily integrated into a

    single-family neighborhood using a variety of house forms.

  • The eight-plex "manor homes" provide a strategic buffer between houses and the church parking lot and parks.

  • The duplexes and four-plexes closely resemble the width and scale of the surrounding homes.

  • Parking for the eight-plex buildings is grouped in the rear (with guest parking on the street), which keeps it affordable and also allows for four-sided architecture.