Wittman Estes’s Tsuga Townhomes receives the AIA National Housing Award 2021

Wittman Estes,

Miranda Estes,

Seattle, USA,



Wittman Estes of Seattle has received a 2021 AIA National Housing Award for Tsuga Townhomes, a small complex of three residential units built to be sustainable, both environmentally, with 4 Star Built Green certification, and economically, with a ??45% reduction in construction costs compared to the average for the city of Seattle.

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Wittman Estes’s Tsuga Townhomes receives the AIA National Housing Award 2021
In a podcast last year, we talked to Matt Wittman and Jody Estes, co-founders of Wittman Estes, about the steep escalation in construction costs in Seattle. The increase in prices has resulted in a proliferation of anonymous homes built out of low-cost materials, disconnected from their surroundings: an approach far removed from the architects’ philosophy of "consciousness of the outdoors", in the form of "courtyard urbanism”. This is a way of densifying cities on a human scale, achieved thanks to Seattle’s new building regulations permitting construction of Detached Accessory Dwelling Units (DADU), aiming to increase urban density using the courtyards of existing homes.
To build a tangible example of architecture that is sustainable in two ways, both environmentally and economically, the architects acted as their own clients, purchasing a lot on which to develop and build their own project. This allowed them to work directly with builders and suppliers, producing a conscientious design with more personalised details and higher quality at a lower price: about 185 dollars per square foot, instead of the city’s average of 338.
The complex in question, composed of two volumes, the main home and a duplex, is located on a lot on the outskirts of Seattle’s Highland Park neighbourhood with a view over the city centre and the Duwamish River, and is named after western red hemlock, also known as Tsuga wood, which was historically used by the local Salish people and subsequently by Scandinavian colonists. Use of this type of wood both inside and outside the complex is the common thread running through the entire project. 
The main house is on Highland Park Way, a busy street, while the duplex is nestled into the hillside on 8th Avenue. The two buildings maintain constant interaction with their surroundings, with windows strategically positioned to offer views of nature and the trees. 
Here too, Wittman Estes use the landscape as a form of visual mediation, creating "buffer zones" filtering between the most private parts of the homes and openness toward the outdoors. This allows the residents, who are the architects themselves, to choose when to be seen and when to be private, a design expedient explained by Jody Estes, on which Matt Wittman comments: "As architects, we work to create a synthesis of beauty and function. We also have a responsibility as urban designers to make sure that new infill housing fits well within its neighbourhood and is a positive addition to the urban fabric of Seattle. It is an honour to be recognised by AIA National for this multifamily residential project”.
Certified as 4 Star Built Green, the project includes green roofs, recycled fir staircases and highly energy-efficient installations. 
The jury in the 2021 AIA National Housing Awards “ welcomed this market-rate development’s strong social approach. It is an excellent strategy for increasing density while respecting the scale of the neighbourhood. The design is restrained and well-detailed, and the cost is modest for the Seattle area”.

Christiane Bürklein

Project: Wittman Estes 
Design Team: Matt Wittman AIA LEED AP, Jody Estes, Naomi Javanifard, Ashton Wesely, Jen Sutherland, Faith Swickard, Julia Frost
Structural Engineer: Joshua Welch Engineering
Builder: Witttman Estes
Location: Seattle, USA
Year: 2020
Photography: Miranda Estes


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