A House Between Properties

Los Angeles, California 2018

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Program: House

Produced for the publication CARTHA

Team: Jimenez Lai

A House Between Properties

The backyard urbanism of Los Angeles is a great platform of adding architecture to architecture.

Los Angeles experience shortages of both residential and commercial supplies to meet the growing demands of rent and purchase. This deficit has resulted in the prohibitively high cost of living, creating a sense of discomfort caused by the unaffordability of architecture. As a result, many citizens of both places have generated a natural response to this problem: add more architecture to the properties they already own, and increase the quantity of supply to meet the demand. Although this economic solution sounds simple enough, there are varying degrees of bureaucratic gymnastics in both cities that one must reckon with.

In Los Angeles, the Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU) became a common solution for property owners. The nickname for Los Angeles ADUs may give away clues to its origin story: The Granny Flat. Building buildings behind buildings, or, a type of backyard addition, became a solution to the replenishment of housing supplies. A ground-up process of densification like this should probably be welcomed, yet ADUs in Los Angeles have faced many problems in its ability to proliferate. Possibly due to a lack of public awareness about the permitting process to allow for ADUs to be constructed legally, or the nuisance the construction of ADUs may cause to its surrounding neighbors, whether or not Angelinos say yes to ADU is still a contested political issue.

This story raises many questions about the status of legality in the creation of architecture – moreover, it opens a possible window to consider other sociopolitical ramifications that adding architecture to architecture begets.

But, at its core, we are also taking this opportunity to consider the possibilities of adding architecture to architecture. The notion of parasitic architecture has been explored by many great architects in the past – for example, here, Hollein hangs a building next to a building

Or Lebbeus Woods adding a building on top of a building,

Or in early Coop Himmelblau, a building is attached between buildings,

The idea of part-to-part relationship between parts of buildings is a complex issue – one that welcomes logical considerations whether there could be hierarchies between the parts. In the case of the Downtown Athletic Club, Rem Koolhaas suggests something about the programmatic juxtaposition – when two programmatic parts are close enough to each other, perhaps a C conditions will emerge because of the contrast of part A and part B.

ADUs can become a helpful addition to the entire neighborhood block if each and every one of the individual ADUs performed some infrastructural role, beyond just housing. If we consider the backyard ADUs to be mini “housing-plus” projects, and each “plus” performs some communal function, then the ADUs may transition from being sources of nuisance to sources of benefit. For instance, if some of the ADUs also acted as something that offer a tangible return for the whole block – for example, solar power, water filtration, billboards, compost station, and more – the ADUs can be regarded as more like infrastructure and less like architecture.

The courtyard condition of a typical Barcelona Block is neither truly private, nor is it completely public. The repetition of such urban patches become a series of collective condition that contains variations of shared back-of-houses.

If the shared functions of the LA ADUs can help remind the LA neighbors that legal property lines are as non-physical as any other imaginary political boundaries, maybe the typical LA suburban blocks can be reimagined as a series of permeable blocks akin to their Barcelona cousins.

Architecture is an extension of the human body, because architecture communicates on the behalf of humans. Whether it is through massing (Venturi Scott-Brown Duck) or surface (Decorated Shed), architecture connotes the motivations of the humans inside the buildings.

In low-density suburban United States, this desire to communicate is already very present: why else would humans pepper their yards with gnomes, Christmas décor, or other imageries that help form a source of identity? For this reason, the ADUs can play an extra role beyond infrastructure – they can help establish the character of a group of humans.


Toyo Ito, White U House

Gehry, Winton Guest House

Le Corbusier, Villa Savoye

OMA, Maison Bordeaux

Johnson, Glass House

Shinohara, Yokohama House

Moore, Orinda House

OMA, Villa dall'Ava

Hejduk, Wall House


Nine houses with historical importance are chosen to be added on the collective architecture, one specific program is selected from each building to provide a relevant infrastructure program to the neighbor. E.g. the OMA’s villa Dall’Ava’s pool is working as water tank, and Villa Savoye’s roof top works as a green room, etc.