In recent years, L.A. County’s homeless population has elevated by astronomical levels, climbing over 23 percent in just 2017 alone. As part of the county’s overall Homeless Initiative, last September, the L.A. County Arts Commission launched Part of the Solution: Yes To ADU, a design competition soliciting innovative uses for accessory dwelling units (ADU) in single family lots. The winners were announced late last month.

There are up to 1.3 million dwellings in the county that could accept such lots, points out L.A. Country Arts Commission Civic Art Project Manager Iris Anna Regn. Officials hope the competition winners will get designers more involved in policy strategy, and help homeowners visualize how to develop ADUs on their properties.

Competition winners were selected anonymously from a pool of 43 professional and student entries. First place went to recent graduates Lilliana Castro, Allen Guillen and Cheuk Nam Yu, who suggested eliminating dwellings’ fences and walls to create more open neighborhoods and better integrate dwellings into the city. Their pre-fabricated constructions, imbedded with green wall panels, solar roofs, and art walls, would be cheaper, easier, and faster to install.

Two teams —Anonymous Architects and Esther Ho — tied for second. Anonymous proposed a modular solution built around recycled plastic packaging that could be customized with elements like solar balloons, water tanks, gardens, and even bird houses. Ho proposed another modular solution, called the Barcode House, which could be easily adapted to varied uses, from dorm rooms to small businesses.

Anonymous Architects’ scheme can be fitted with customized elements ranging from water tanks to gardens. (Courtesy Anonymous Architects)

Two Honorable Mentions went to Bureau Spectacular and Wes Jones Partners. Bureau Spectacular’s Backyard Urbanism suggested that ADUs could perform other uses besides housing, like recreation spaces or laundromats. Jones suggested the use of shipping containers, their designs kept simple but elegant to fit into their contexts.

The competition-winning proposals, and a handful of others, will be exhibited throughout the county for the next few months, including a panel discussion at Downtown LA’s Institute for Contemporary Art on May 24. Already the Arts Commission has shared the visions via events at East LA College and the AC Bilbrew Library.

“This is an important new typology that people are being asked to do all time now,” pointed out Regn. “It won’t just provide new housing options, but it could help people stay in their neighborhoods and keep communities together.” Of course ADUs will not provide the only solution to L.A.’s homeless and affordable housing crisis. It’s just one of many strategies, added Regn. “Everything needs to be thought about now—supportive housing, mental health, social enterprise, much more— to solve this humanitarian crisis.”

Wes Jones focused on shipping container units. (Courtesy Wes Jones Studio)

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