Building Typology Masterclass: Townhomes

August 10, 2022

Whether you call it a townhome, rowhome, or townhouse, or even a terraced house, attached and semi-attached single family homes have a historical precedent in many urban centers. A townhouse is “a usually single-family house of two or sometimes three stories that is usually connected to a similar house by a common sidewall” (Merriam-Webster).

Townhome developments may be for-rent or for-sale, and provide inhabitants the feeling of a single-family home whilst still accomplishing higher density than a typical single-family dwelling.

Let’s discover how to represent townhomes in Giraffe!

Density by Design

In 2022, the White House announced plans to increase housing stock by supporting jurisdictions that promote density and expand government-funded financing models to better support different types of homes. Townhome developments are unique in that they provide a single family experience to residents whilst still increasing density.

A Townhome development is best suited for an area that already has some density, good municipal infrastructure, and a large enough site to accommodate multiple units. The zoning on the land may not explicitly allow attached or semi-attached homes, but as opinions shift about the necessity of density, you may find it easier to pursue an up-zoning variance. Use Layers to visualize the current land use and zoning, as well as the neighboring parcels, to inform your research.

Giraffe allows you to connect to GIS data from any 3rd party source - public or private. You can even use Giraffe to create and host your own data layers. That GIS data is displayed on the map as "Layers.”

To create a layer from a vector source, image, or Giraffe model, go to 'My Layers,’ click ‘Create Layer,’ and select how you'd like to create the layer.

You can import layers in various formats, including:

  • Vector
  • Image
  • Esri Mapserver or Featureserver
  • Mapbox
  • Your Giraffe Models

Divide and Conquer

The recommended best practice to represent townhomes is to draw a model for each individual townhome on the site. This allows you to exactly control the size and dwelling count of each unit. Leverage Usages and Feature Properties  to create floor plates and control dwelling counts with ease.

Create Usages

The typical Residential Usage is a good place to start. However, this Usage is intended for multi-unit mid- to high-rise apartments. We will need to edit some properties to adjust for the Townhome use case.

Usages can be edited and created from the Usage Editor.

Copy the residential Usage. Name it “Townhome” or some other name that matches your company’s data schema. Edit the existing properties to match your company’s or project’s assumptions and graphics preferences. Remove the other units from the unit mix that do not apply (IE - if the townhome is 3 bedroom, only leave the 3-bed option)

👉 Tip: You may wish to create a different Usage for end or corner units, as the costs for these units may vary from the rest.

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Create Building Geometry

Click the draw tool in the draw palette (the cube icon), then select the Usage you would like to apply.

Be sure to select the Usage you just created with the correct Units applied!

Draw only one townhome at a time, instead of drawing a block of townhomes as one shape. This will allow you to control the unit count accurately. Snap to the corners of the previous building (hold S on your keyboard to snap) to add an adjacent property.  Repeat until you have created the entire block of homes.

💡 For precise distances, type a number on the keyboard, and hit enter. Learn more about Drawing Accurately

Typical townhome sizes are:

Control Dwelling Count

You will want each individual townhome to only contain a single unit. You can accomplish this by adding the Dwelling Count from Feature Properties.


You may have a few configurations of townhomes in your project - i.e., blocks of 4, 6, 12, 14 homes. You can group the building geometry you just created to allow you to easily move, manipulate, and analyze the geometry as a single unit.

Select the geometry you wish to group. Shift + click to select multiple pieces of unconnected geometry. Click “Group” at the bottom of the left left-hand palette. Enter a Group name to the right of the group button

You can quickly analyze your grouped townhomes in the Urban Calculations tab. Switch the BY: dropdown to group to show GFA organized by the groups you have defined.

Quick Links



Import Data from Existing Giraffe Projects

How to Draw Buildings in Giraffe