Conceptual Elevations for small houses and ADU's

As of late I have been thinking about how small housing designs or ADU’s can be translated into the context of the existing larger home. For a while now, one of my favorite activities has been walking through a neighborhood and seeing if I can place an era to the style of a home. For this exercise, I was inspired by one of my favorite books

From Lester Walker American Homes: An Illustrated Encyclopedia of Domestic Architecture to do a few quick mock-ups in sketch-up for potential reinterpretations of styles at a small scale.

When I began this exercise, I was preparing a presentation on how the 2nd Place concept could be adapted allowing the ADU or small home to fit into the context of the larger home. At this time I was living near Berkeley California. Walking through the neighborhoods day to day will always remain one of my fondest memories. Ever since I was young, I found this area to have a kind of romantic appeal with it’s multi-variant styles ranging from Spanish colonial to craftsman to tudors to the occasional more modern style.

Like any exercise, I usually try to pick a topic and explore it with a little depth. I found myself reading about what some others in the architectural community had to say about architecture and context in design. One search popped up a research study that took me by some surprise.

The article was from a research study in Rotterdam that was one of the first of it’s kind. The findings were that homogeneity in architectural shape lead to increase in property values. As a fan of eclecticism, my mind immediately went to images of suburbs and mass-housing. The sample size included 320 conditions, so not particularly small, using various 3D shapes provided by scans from the city of Rotterdam. This study analyzed rowhouses and their relationship to other adjacent structures of similar shapes – Ultimately finding that “Rowhouses surrounded by other buildings of the same shape carry an economically and statistically significant premium of several percentage points”. The author prefaced the study admitting that this runs counter to the prevailing belief that architectural diversity is aesthetically valued. The author ultimately alludes to the fact that there may be some cultural proclivity to homogeneity in architecture.

Even still. My architectural education, and my real world experience suggests that this information is only one piece of the puzzle, that there is a fine balance between too much and too little architectural diversity. I believe this quote from architect David Adjaye sums up the general sentiment

“Context is so important, not to mimic…but to become part of the place”.

Adjaye’s work displays a deep understanding of context and has a unique quality that seems to integrate place and time. He has completed some incredible work in Washington DC. A few projects include:

Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture

Francis A gregory Library

Others in the architectural community echoed Adjayes sentiment using different words. The following quote from

Sums up this idea well.

“When designing in historical surroundings, we may want to see our structure in harmony with the surrounding architecture. However, being influenced by every building in the environment may cause us to give wrong architectural choices. When thinking of an architecture in communication with historical buildings, we should never make the mistake of imitating. We can interpret the decorations or building elements and use common building materials to protect the texture. We can create a similar roof type or repeat the openings on the facades in different proportions and rhythms. Adapting to nearby buildings doesn’t always mean looking like them.”

Conclusion: In reviewing my attempts below, I realized that it would help to have a larger design nearby modeled to establish a truer relationship between the primary residence and the smaller ADU. At this time I am only adding photos of similar typologies after the fact. I think that with these designs I could be more subtle, taking one or two more simple themes from a style and allowing them to carry the design forward, rather than attempting to create a smaller scale version of the style. In future concepts, I will certainly give more thought to the balance between mimicking an existing theme, and using that theme as a way to create a dialogue between the elements in the built environment.