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Friday, November 9, 2007

A Matter of Taste

posted by on November 9 at 11:08 AM

I have no idea what good townhome design looks like. At least that’s what I’ve learned from reading Slog comments on my development posts. So, I decided I’d put it you folks.

I’m posting images of a number of townhome developments from around the continent to see what you guys think. Some of these townhomes have won design awards, or are by award winning developers. Some aren’t.

Have at it.







Do any of these do anything for you? Hate brick? Love brick? Want more faux-craftsman?

If you have pics of something you love/hate in your neighborhood, feel free to post/send ‘em in.

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I like the third pic - you should take pics of the cool ones just north of Gasworks Park going up two blocks east of Wallingford Ave N, just half a block N of N 34th ...

Posted by Will in Seattle | November 9, 2007 11:23 AM

The second from the bottom appeals to my aesthetics, but, I kinda like minimalism in my architecture.

Posted by Gitai | November 9, 2007 11:25 AM

For me, personally, it's that faux-craftsman, multiple crayon-colored abominations that I'd love to see burn to the ground.

Oh, and second from the bottom ... I LOVE that building. It's so much prettier and sleak in person.

Posted by louley | November 9, 2007 11:29 AM

Well, speaking from my own tastes, this is what I would say, top to bottom:

1. Mediocre, but not god-awful.
2. Decent.
3. A bit garish, but I like 'em.
4. Mediocre, but not god-awful.
5. Yes!
6. Bland and unappealing.

Yes, I know, I'm picky.

Posted by Hernandez | November 9, 2007 11:30 AM

Meh, like (although the roofline needs some help), hate, a bit blurry but I think I don't like it, love, hate.

I love good, red-brown brick. A lot of brick I see in new developments (here, in Toronto) is a sandy pink, straining to be classy and elegant, mostly in the suburbs. Yellow brick is acceptable; I see it mostly on old Georgian houses. The new opera house here is built from this beautiful slate grey stone brick with a slight sheen to it, and it would be absolutely gorgeous except we used far too much of it and ended up with rather bleak facades. Don't even talk to me about cinderblocks.

Posted by Gloria | November 9, 2007 11:30 AM

I like the second from the top. It reminds me of the rowhouses here in DC. They're buildings I can imagine people still being willing to live in decades from now.

Posted by steve | November 9, 2007 11:31 AM

the only ones that don't make me want to blow them up are in the second picture.

The rest of those homes should die, die, die.

Posted by gnossos | November 9, 2007 11:31 AM

p.s. *sleek. oops.


@ 1) Will:

Are you talking about the hideous structures on Meridian and 35th?!?!? Please say it isn't so!

Posted by louley | November 9, 2007 11:32 AM

The main thing is to stop requiring parking. This drives the whole look and feel and raises costs and takes away your freedom to choose what you want to buy.
Some townhouses in Seattle even have no front door and no connection to the street -- they have a big blank fence six feet high along the street. Yuck!

Doors, stoops, porches, little yards with low fences are all great ways to connect to the street and make the streetscape friendly and enjoyable.

The second thing would be to prohibit the cedar fences that block off the townhouse from the street.

The third thing would be to allow a townhouse to have a separate apartment in the lower floor or the upper floor. Lots of townhomes are built in 6 story zoning but cannot take advantage of the 6 story envelope because currently we require parking with every unit.

Think "Huxtables."

Posted by Cleve | November 9, 2007 11:40 AM

Ooh, Huxtables -- yes! I always wanted to live in that kind of building.

On first glance I didn't mind the 3rd, but a few seconds later I couldn't see anything beyond a sanitized Disney version of the Wild West. Ouch.

Anyway, I say #1 and the second from bottom (which appears to be the most popular choice). Not particularly my style of architechture, as I prefer 1920's style brick buildings (like so many around here on Capitol Hill) and the style of the old academic buildings on the UW campus, but the aforementioned photos have the cleanest and most urban feel out of all of those pictured.

Posted by Rose Red | November 9, 2007 11:46 AM

@9- The first two things you mentioned—doors on the street and prohibiting fences—are actually in the works at DPD. They're hoping to get some sort of legislation out by 08 that would force fences on the street to be lower, and put doors on the street, as well as requiring a number of windows and doors on new townhomes.

Posted by Jonah S | November 9, 2007 11:49 AM

Even if you don't require parking, they'll build it, because they can't sell them without it. That's reality.

Aesthetically, I like (1), with the stoops, but they're anti-handicapped. (2) is OK (Colonial), (3) is OK (looks like Sunset in SF, kinda, (4) is blah, (5) is OK, (6) is the only one that really sucks hard.

Really, they're all almost identical where it counts. Aesthetics don't matter. Just jam 'em in.

Having a mixture is good. So is avoiding gaps. Best of all would be to require this style of housing but not allow a single development to span more than say 200 feet of frontage.

Posted by Fnarf | November 9, 2007 11:49 AM

Seattle is looking more and more like Florida every day. Why are they trying so hard? Spanish architecture in the Northwest?

Posted by dirty girl | November 9, 2007 11:50 AM

1. 1950s elementary school. No.

2. Nice. Classic Baltimore or DC.

3. Meh. Too many clashing shapes.

4. Meh. Faux-Southern.

5. Me likey, along with everyone else.

6. I want to like it, but I don't.

Posted by laterite | November 9, 2007 11:52 AM

I loathe the fake Mediterranean/Tuscan #'s 3 and 6. The phony craftsman #2 is just that, phony. #4 looks like a split-level ranch on steroids. These buildings are embellished with cheap and shoddy decoration that harkens back to a world that never was. #'s 1 and 5 are the only buildings which are honestly what they are, modern townhouses, with no unnecessary or tawdry tat.

Posted by inkweary | November 9, 2007 11:53 AM

THIS is what a city looks like:

I don't know what the hell kind of townhouses those are that you put up. They look like they were built in a factory.

Posted by john | November 9, 2007 11:58 AM

@12: Good point on the frontage. I once walked along a street where the entire length of the street -- entire! -- was one single development. It was actually quite unnerving and, as I described it at the time because I couldn't think of anything better, "Stepfordesque."

Posted by Gloria | November 9, 2007 11:58 AM

There are going to be so many shoddy, run-down, faux-craftsman townhomes in Seattle in 10 years. End it now.

#1 and #5 are excellent. More of those please. Let's design for the environment, for functionality, and for beauty—as it is now—from here on out.

Posted by Carollani | November 9, 2007 12:00 PM

Also wanted to comment that I think the appeal for #5 is because it best imparts the "Pacific Northwest" aesthetic, in my mind at least. The shape and the facade clearly contrasts with the surrounding trees and water, firmly declaring its status as a building. But it also incorporates natural wood into its structure, easing the transition from nature to man. All of the others ultimately look like they try too hard to be "unique", but really just look like they belong elsewhere.

Posted by laterite | November 9, 2007 12:01 PM

#3 & #6 suck. If you like them, move to San Diego.

The rest I don't mind.

Posted by DOUG. | November 9, 2007 12:05 PM

"Are you talking about the hideous structures on Meridian and 35th?!?!? Please say it isn't so!"

No, the ones they're building now just north of the 1900 block of N 34th. That look out onto I-5 and Lake Union.

I don't actually like the second from the bottom ones you guys seem to like. They feel sterile (with the high up balconies), or the fake rock star building above that.

Posted by Will in Seattle | November 9, 2007 12:07 PM

Notice that Jonah didn't say these were in Seattle, just "around the continent". So we could be participating in a regional taste test of sorts. So 3 and 6 *could* be in San Diego. Perhaps #5 is actually in St. Louis, therefore blowing my mind.

Posted by laterite | November 9, 2007 12:11 PM

I don't really like any all that much.

#1 seems to have a decent neighborhood concept, but is uninspiring (and what's with the fire escape in the end unit?).

#2 gets bonus points for having diversity among units, but is just ugly.

## 3 and 4 are fortresses that are pedestrian unfriendly.

#5 isn't bad and may have the most potential, but I'd like to see a wider shot to see the whole building, and it seems like the interiors could be depressingly dark.

#6 is ok, but like #1, very uninspiring.

Posted by NealH | November 9, 2007 12:11 PM

No, the appeal of #5 is based on its modernism. Which, in 2007, is just as bogus a "style" as phony craftsman or anything else.

The aesthetics police need to get out of the house and have a look at what's actually built in Seattle. There were waves of crappy buildings in the 70s, 80s, and 90s too, thousands of them. So what?

Shoddy and run-down? You ought to be rejoicing. Those are just code words for cheap. In thirty years, that's where your kids or grandkids are going to be living.

Posted by Fnarf | November 9, 2007 12:11 PM

We want townhouses like they have in Portland, whatever the hell they have there.

Posted by JMR | November 9, 2007 12:14 PM

I like #2. a retro/colonial rowhouse but a nice modern twist on it.

#5 is soooo overrated...too ayn rand for me...a look i like to call Ecotopic Gestapo...

#1 is ok.

others bite, hard....

Posted by michael strangeways | November 9, 2007 12:24 PM

Completely agree with #4.

Posted by Dougsf | November 9, 2007 12:27 PM

Oh, I mean with comment #4, I find picture #5 extremely disagreeable. That's just me. What gets built it more of what already sells somewhere else.

Posted by Dougsf | November 9, 2007 12:34 PM
Posted by max solomon | November 9, 2007 12:35 PM

go look at that picture. that's what townhomes should look like.


Posted by max solomon | November 9, 2007 12:36 PM

Style wouldn't make as much of a difference if these things being built all over Seattle would address the street in a direct way. Most of them are little enclaves hiding behind garages and fences, and they have a paranoiac fear of ever touching each other--they're not true townhouses unless they have party walls, which make for better aesthetics and better heating efficiency.
2 is good not just because of the modulated facade and common roofline--which is classic townhouse form--but because they address the street directly, opening right onto the sidewalk with almost no setback. That's great.

One seems to be on its own private alley, which is a little antiurban. Five, to like five is to say, pretty picture, because you can tell nothing about the building from it.

Three and six, which look like a lot of new outer-borough construction in NYC, are awful fortresses. They have nothing to do with the city, as dense as they might be.

Posted by Eric F | November 9, 2007 12:38 PM

#2 I like because it kind of remind me of San Francisco and I like that there arne't fences or garages. 4 isn't bad.

What would make any of these look a lot, lot better is for vegetation, and especially trees, to grow in. Right now they all look naked.

Posted by exelizabeth | November 9, 2007 12:41 PM

I am surprised by how much everyone seems like like #5, that is my least favorite. It looks like a prison to me and the color makes me want to kill myself. What's the appeal, I don't get it?

Posted by exelizabeth | November 9, 2007 12:43 PM


its appeal is that it isn't a lie. this is 2007. not 1914.

Posted by max solomon | November 9, 2007 12:48 PM

Repeat after me, Spangenthal-Lee: townHOUSE! townHOUSE!

Posted by annie | November 9, 2007 12:59 PM

The only ones I dislike are #2 and #6. I really like 4 and 5.

Posted by UC | November 9, 2007 1:01 PM

This conversation alone just validates the point that there's no flipping accounting for taste and that if we debate the style of density rather than the merits of it we're fucked.

Posted by gnossos | November 9, 2007 1:23 PM

#35, I know, I know, but in all fairness, they haven't printed the word "townhouse" in probably 15 years.

Posted by Dougsf | November 9, 2007 1:45 PM

All those houses are fine.

What kind of architectural fairy tale do these people want to be living in? I think if you feel the need to burn down every house that isn't some kind of masterpiece, you are too good for this world. Maybe need to kill yourself? Yes, maybe.

Posted by elenchos | November 9, 2007 1:52 PM

I also put forth my vote for second from the bottom. Delish! But I'm down for some revivalism if it's done well though. The odd Spanish Colonial/funky Greeky yellow ones appeal to me in some bizarre way.

But we are not alone in bad architecture. The condos and townhouses going up in my old hometown of Chicago are just as bad as what goes up most of the time around here. They are usually just featurless blobs of brick that try and mimic the old Victorian 3 flats, but fail fail FAIL. See what I mean: Oh I just want to cry when I see them. And what's up with that blank brick pediment? Why bother?

Posted by thaumaturgistguy | November 9, 2007 1:54 PM

1. too boxy and institutional, but not horrible. wouldn't want them in seattle.
2. this shit stays in new england
3. good, but too california for seattle
4. boring as hell, not offensive though,
5. good, although a bit plain. wouldn't mind having it around
6. bland and very much of the desert. no thanks.

we actually do have some great examples around in seattle. just not the majority of what is going up.

Posted by Cale | November 9, 2007 1:58 PM

Fifth! Fifth!!!

Posted by Amelia | November 9, 2007 2:01 PM

Interestingly, none of these look like the standard infill Seattle townhouse, the two to three house lots turned into four to six townhouses going two deep into the block's center. Our townhouses are pretending to be really tall Craftsman cottages.

Posted by Eric F | November 9, 2007 2:23 PM

#1, #5, and maybe #6.

#29 very nice, but totally too expensive.

Any of those pictured is better than the generic boxes with attached woodwork that are being cloned throughout the city.
But, any of those pictured are also too expensive for Seattle.

Let's face it, if all you have to work with is $375K - $500K, you aren't going to get much more than what's going up.

Posted by snark | November 9, 2007 3:08 PM

I don't like any of them. But I wouldn't even care about the design much if I could just get a patio w/a little grass.

Posted by Megan | November 9, 2007 6:01 PM

my opinions . . . .

1 is not bad. i do agree that the seeming lack of accessibility is a problem (maybe they have units w/ ramps or elevators we just can't see?). although looking at it more, 1 does look a little uninspired. but i wouldn't mind living next to it.

2: FUCK NO! Looks like new units in the college/downtown part of my hometown, and i came here to get away from that. They're too tall for the style and the lack of trees really hurts them. too close to the street.

3: um, uh, no, prob not. they're nice. they don't appeal to my tastes though. I think it's the color; it's a nice color, just maybe not on these particular buildings. No trees, too close to the street, too big/tall. too many stylistic elements. there's something i don't like about the driveways/gates/garages. it could be nice for a suburb in California though.

4: even though they're not my favorite and don't totally do it for me, they're not totally bad. they're at decent heights and they mix those up a bit. they do have trees. the patios are nice. different materials are nice.

5: nice. i like it. probably my favorite. wouldn't mind living next to it--or in one :). very simple yet pays attention to form. love the materials. medium mature trees--evergreens, small trunk deciduous--would make them even better and some grass might (on the ground, of course, I would like to see this unit's environs). somehow tastefully incorporate a couple of big windows for sunlight/nature into the essential concept and form of the design. maybe bigger decks? maybe not. (that's just me, i like decks.) only if it fits into the form. and maybe a few units, say top, with translucent or opaque siding for the deck for some topless (or maybe nude on seattle's warmest days in the summer) sunbathing.

6: not bad. color's not bad. nice big patios. maybe for outskirts of a desert town or middle of nowhere in a desert. maybe also for the waaay outskirts of seattle and/or king co. but looking at it more: 1. maybe the photo composition (closeness to subject of picture) is affecting my neutral judgment, 2. the lack of cars help it out, 3. that looks a lot like--maybe the backside of--#3's units or another bldg in its complex.

so the order i would put it in from fave to least is: 5, 1, 4--if we had to, 6--if we had to, 2--if we absolutely had to but shorter please and further back from the street, and 6--probably not. 5 and 1 would go best in seattle.

Posted by from east of miss | November 10, 2007 12:51 AM

john at 16:

do you live in montreal? while much of the city is beautiful, you did pick nicer streets. unfortunately, many of the old buildings/townhouses are decaying and many have structural and vermin problems. just to be the negative voice on montreal, a great city nevertheless.

Posted by C. | November 10, 2007 2:57 PM

Like a lot: #2
Love: #5
Detest: #3
Don't like: #4 and #6.

I think I might like #1 depending on its context. It might, as several have said, be a bit too mid-century modern (60s boomer school building), but it looks to have enough 00's detailing to pull it away from the more dreadful examples of that era.

#3 is not only gaudy, but it's the most pedestrian unfriendly of the group with the high fences and garage doors greeting the few who might dare try to walk on those sidewalks. #6 isn't much better, but at it least has a suggestion of Spanish-courtyard about it.

And I know from the picture that #2 isn't an old townhouse development, but it does a great job of pretending to be that. And this one really does look like it's created a nice neighborhood.

Posted by Robinev | November 10, 2007 4:37 PM

That second photo is of town houses in Old Town Alexandria - Just outside of Washington, D.C. They start at around $750,000. May be nice design, but definitely not affordable.

Posted by tube | November 10, 2007 8:55 PM

No wonder I liked that one the most...

Posted by gnossos | November 10, 2007 11:53 PM

#5 is my fav as well, by far. Because I like the modern aesthetic. Which plenty of people hate. So. I don't know. I guess I'm in favor of density, and if that means giving people a suburban facade on their townhomes so that they don't feel like they're living in a cold concrete box (even though they are), whatever.

I like concrete boxes, and I'm looking forward to buying something like #5 someday.

Posted by violet_dagrinder | November 11, 2007 7:32 AM

@14--#2 isn't quite classic Baltimore. It's close, but is really classic Baltimore. The stoop is crucial. Plus, if it's Baltimore, it's a row home, not a townhome/townhouse.

Although good design principles are of course important, context is key. I love the San Francisco townhouses, but I'm not sure that I would love them here.

Posted by Bridgette | November 11, 2007 2:26 PM

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