The Evolution of the Townhouse and Its Role in Creating Sustainable Communities

The Evolution of the Townhouse and Its Role in Creating Sustainable Communities

T.J. Bartuska 

School of Design & Construction, Washington State University, USA

31 December 2013
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The townhouse has evolved over more than a 1000 years and is a highly valued living environment in Europe and throughout the western World. It is a sustainable building prototype and has effectively responded to envi-ronmental, social, cultural and economic forces in society. Townhouses have adapted to these ecological and dynamic changes in both rural and urban settlements, contributing to a sense of community while providing privacy for those fortunate enough to live within its walls. The townhouse is responsive to design with “nature” – integrating both human nature and natural systems. The compact, common wall construction is inherently more economical, energy efficient and can create an ideal density for walkable and transit-oriented communities.

The townhouse can also be referred to as terrace or row house. The townhouse is the preferred term because it references both town and home or the important dual interdependency between community and privacy. The townhouse’s public realm, the “fronts”, can interact in a friendly, complementary way with the community street or help define a communal space. The “backs” provide outdoor space for private activities and gardening. Their architecture can be responsive to any regional or environmental context and help shape the composite character of its sense of place, yet establishing variety, human scale and individual identity.

The long evolutionary life of the townhouse is full of rich and rewarding lessons. Its longevity transcends various architectural periods; is an adaptable, time tested or timeless building prototype and offers important principles for contemporary architecture and urbanism. This essay will trace the townhouse’s dynamic and ecological (ecodynamic) development throughout the ages and defines useful design qualities and planning principles that are relevant to society today as we secure a sustainable future, locally as well as throughout the world.


Acre, community, ecodynamic, ecological design and planning, green architecture, housing sustain-ability, townhouse, urbanism


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