Seattle to the World: Urban Infill Done Right

Dwell Development and other local firms show us how to increase density while enhancing the existing urban environment


By Ashley DeForest

The story:
As we have often discussed on Worldchanging, urban infill is an important tool for curtailing sprawl and preserving natural green space. But infill development can be a very controversial topic, especially in Seattle. Rapid growth in our city has produced more than a few townhouse projects that tower above neighboring homes, flaunting design that seems oblivious to the traditional character of the streetscape. But a select group of local design/build firms have shown remarkable sensitivity and insight with their work, which sets an inspiring example of how to add density successfully. Anthony Maschmedt, long-time South Seattle resident and founder of one of these innovative firms, sat down with us to discuss his company’s design philosophy.

Maschmedt's firms, Dwell Development and the associated Dwell Design, are boutique design/build firms committed to creating ecologically sound homes in Seattle that are positive additions to the neighborhoods around them. In Maschmedt's opinion, designers must acknowledge the environmental and social impacts of infill development in order to create successful projects.

The homes themselves are designed and built with the environment in mind: making maximum use of natural light, incorporating recycled materials, and utilizing energy efficient heating and cooling systems. The projects are also sited to help residents access alternative modes of transportation, with most within walking distance of the Columbia City or Beacon Hill light rail stations. To further encourage the use of fuel-efficient vehicles and to incentivize buyers, new homes are often outfitted with scooters or smart cars. Future projects may even incorporate solar technologies and greywater systems.

But the Dwell team also uses design to be good neighbors. Dwell Development's in-house architect customizes their projects to maximize privacy through the placement of windows and open space. This thoughtful detailing also extends to the scaling of the units and the selection of complimentary exterior materials. For one project in Columbia City the team committed to preserving the original craftsman home on the site, even though it meant the loss of two new units in the infill project. These types of efforts to retain the character of a streetscape even while adding homes to the neighborhood set a new standard in sustainable development. (Want to see more? Dwell shares the details of each project in a hard hat tour at the building's completion.)


Several other innovative Seattle firms are making thoughtful contributions to the infill landscape. For example, OPA Design and Architecture demonstrates that infill projects can be both sustainable and affordable, and Case Design and Project Management is dedicated to building reduced-impact residential developments in emerging Seattle neighborhoods.

Why it’s Worldchanging:
As the global population continues to grow, it's important to find ways to add capacity to our cities without simply stretching the borders of urban areas and swallowing up surrounding green space. As existing urban neighborhoods evolve to accommodate new homes, designers and builders are taking an increasingly active role in public mediation, by recognizing and endeavoring to minimize their projects’ associated environmental and social impacts. Dwell Development is one excellent local example of how conscientious design can benefit homeowners, the natural environment and the entire community.

Ashley DeForest is a Community Developer who lives in Seattle, but is involved in urban and regional planning projects throughout the Northwest. Feel free to email her at ashleyd [at] zenbe [dot] com … she's always excited to hear about an innovation in community engagement or urban development!

Photo credit: Dwell Development


This post is part of the series, "Seattle to the World: 100 Best Innovations from the Emerald City."

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