Miranda Estes Photography

In response to rising construction costs in Seattle, averaging $338 per square foot, architect Wittman Estes set out to design and build a set of three high-quality townhome units—a main house and a duplex—on a 5,040-square-foot site at the lowest possible cost, without any sacrifice of design, structural integrity, or connection with the outdoors.

Named for the local Tsuga wood used in their woodcraft and detailing, the Tsuga Townhomes are designed for efficient operation in a compact space, one that nonetheless remains connected to the outdoors. The arrangement of the doors and windows allow for maximum natural light exposure, as well as an open connection to nature. In particular, the south-­facing “megawindow” was specified for its solar heating capacity, in order to reduce energy use and costs for residents.

A series of green roofs and water harvesting planters serve to capture rainwater and reduce runoff on the site, as well as contribute to a “buffer zone” between the private spaces and the natural world. The homes themselves are equipped with high-performance insulation, along with energy-efficient mechanical systems including on-demand hot water heaters, air source heat pumps, and low-flow water fixtures. All of these features—site, design, and products alike—contribute to the project’s overall Four Star Built Green certification.

The project was completed at a cost of $183 per square foot, a 44% cost reduction from Seattle’s average. In order to meet the design goals and cost targets, Wittman Estes took on responsibility for every phase of Tsuga Townhomes, including purchasing the land, developing, and building the project. This allowed the architects to work directly with tradespeople and fabricators, as well as provide expanded opportunities for creative and custom materials, detailing, and layouts.