DADUs | Laneway Housing

Last year proved very fruitful for proponents of increased density and livability in Pacific Northwest cities. In July, Vancouver adopted an Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU) ordinance for laneway housing that will open the potential for additional density on nearly 70,000 city lots. By November, the Seattle City Council [finally] took a progressive stance to increase density (other than raising zoning heights) with the Detached Accessory Dwelling Unit (DADU) ordinance. We were a little shocked this passed as well as it did (9-0) but are excited that it will present some interesting and new challenges in our vastly un-dense city.

As a place almost completely surrounded by water, Seattle’s growth is severely restricted – and we believe this is a great benefit for our young city. Many other Northwest cities, like Portland, have to contend with unnatural boundaries and continually fight to maintain Urban Growth Boundaries. Laneways and DADUs offer an opportunity to increase density through infill projects, without compromising the character of single-family neighborhoods. This ordinance was partially driven by a study of alternate housing programs, which resulted in a fairly informational report by DPD, Evaluation of the 1998-2001 Demonstration Program for Innovative Housing Design (PDF).  Unfortunately, these types of dwellings in both Seattle and Vancouver will only be available as rentals. This is something we at brute_force hope will be revisited in the near future.

What we find so appealing about laneway and DADUs is that they provide an opportunity for a new typology for Seattle, a new aesthetic – the ‘backyard cottage’ doesn’t have to look like an actual cottage. They potentially provide additional income to residents or a less-expensive option for people moving into the city. Another aspect of laneway homes is repurposing derelict and neglected spaces, increasing safety and adding value to properties. Laneways may also prove beneficial for those looking to explore prefab, as it may be an excellent choice to keep costs down.


Toronto: Laneway Gurus

The Canadian über-firm Shim|Sutcliffe have been laneway housing activists for nearly 2 decades. In the early 90s, they designed and built a home for themselves on a laneway lot that had been used to store automobiles, the result is nothing short of fantastic. Brigitte Shim led a studio with Donald Chong  in 2003 to investigate laneway opportunities within Toronto’s existing infrastructures. That studio resulted in a great little book, Site Unseen: Laneway Architecture & Urbanism in Toronto. My copy was snagged, so if anyone has a spare or wants to sell theirs, please let me know.

The lanewayhouse blog  documents the process of constructing a laneway house designed by Peter Duckworth-Pilkington and Suzanne Cheng. The project took green building seriously, utilizing several recycled materials. The owners wanted to be completely off-grid, but weren’t able to get the city to accept their proposal. The costs for the lot and house were $350,000CDN or roughly $230,000US, not too shabby for an urban home.

Diamond + Schmitt Architects designed this amazing laneway house on a site measuring 29’ wide and 44’ long. There is a nice sense of scale and appropriateness to the materials selected.  

Another Toronto example is superkül inc.’s 40 R Laneway, a remodel of a neglected workshop. This project has been making the rounds on various architecture sites (Arch Daily) for a while. As corten-loving fools, we really dig the texture of the facade. A lack of outdoor space on the ground floor is offset with a roof-top deck, which must be an amazing place to enjoy summer evenings.

 Seattle: DADU projects

Our neighbors at CAST have been looking into DADUs for a while, their blog provides some great insight into zoning issues as well as some interesting proposals in the works. We’re fairly enamored with this one:


While the possibility to design a DADU has yet to present itself, we’re excited about working on potential proposals. And though tight lots may not allow for adequate passive solar usage, the constraints involved may definitely open the door for innovative solutions. There are an estimated 100,000 eligible lots within city limits… We’ll keep you posted.

Speaking of alleys… Last week, Helle Søholt of Gehl Architects (DK) gave a great presentation on ways to make Seattle’s downtown vibrant and livable (and even included a slide of Freiburg). One of her proposals is retaking downtown alleys for public space, a move that already seems to be in progress. AIA Seattle even held a competition on ways to ‘green’ downtown alleys. In our mind, this is a win-win situation – adding character to an already dense downtown is a positive benefit. Post Alley is one of the most vibrant spaces in Seattle and provides a model of how alleys can be re-purposed to make our urban condition a little more livable.

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2 responses to “DADUs | Laneway Housing

  1. Thought I would bring attention to a project I built with three peers last summer. Designed by architect Peter Cohan, L2Q studio is a 780 sqft DADU located in Beacon Hill. We built it using advanced framing, sips panels for the roof, paper-stone siding, in floor radiant heating and a slab on grade to increase thermal mass. It was a very fun/challenging build given the newness of these structures. Thanks for the survey of projects! L2Q Studio Peter Cohan Architect

  2. travis,

    we ran across your blog a few months ago. the cohan project is (yet again) pretty phenomenal.