America is in the midst of a housing emergency, and the city of Los Angeles is no exception. Rents increased as much as 22% this year, many lower-income Angelenos are being forced out of the city, and tent encampments are rising throughout the area. Legalizing denser building and expediting approvals in transit-oriented areas will no doubt help alleviate the situation. One promising solution is the city’s experiments with Accessory Dwelling Units or ADUs—sometimes called granny flats or in-law suites. According to The Atlantic, from 2016 to 2021, the number of ADU permits issued in LA rose dramatically from 80 to 5,064—an increase of 6,230%. Further, the magazine reported that 25% of all homes built in LA last year were ADUs.
Since 2021, the Los Angeles Accessory Dwelling Unit Standard Plan Program spearheaded by the LA Department of Building and Safety has been working with a group of emerging architects from LA and beyond to develop plans that are preapproved, and they’ve streamlined and expedited the process of getting planning and building approval. The initiative currently has 51 preapproved designs for ADUs, designed by Jennifer Bonner, SO-IL, and Design,Bitches, just to name a few. ADU startups—like Abodu, United Dwelling, and Cottage—are also active in the ADU market and handle the entire process of building one for their customers.
Architect Linda Taalman, founder of IT House and Taalman Architecture and a participant in the city’s initiative, recently told me that when she first started thinking about designing an ADU, she realized there was no one-size-fits-all solution, so her team proposed six models. Taalman is also an entrepreneur-in-residence under LA mayor Eric Garcetti’s office for the city of Los Angeles, where she and design associate Camille Walkinshaw will spend the next year studying how to increase awareness and improve the implementation of housing in the city through public engagement on the topic of small-scale, low-rise densification following recent legislative changes for ADUs, JADUs (Junior Accessory Dwelling Units), duplexes, and lot-split housing. They are organizing self-guided tours of ADUs throughout the city including their own, collecting data, and getting feedback from the local community. They hope they can change some of the interface with the city, improve the workflow between different city departments, and facilitate new policies. The pair will also be making formal recommendations to the city on how LA can expand its low-rise housing. Plus, there are plans in the near future for a website, lowrise.lacity.org, a symposium on low-cost packaged solutions, and an exhibition on LA densification projects.
“The Case Study program from 60 years ago was about single-family houses and prefabrication,” Taalman says. “Our study is about multi-housing, and our approach is kind of like an open-source case study.”
Stay tuned for more.
This article first appeared in the November/December 2022 issue of ARCHITECT.