Buildable land is increasingly difficult to come by in Seattle, at the same time population growth continues and the needs of our built environment continue to evolve and expand.  It’s a great problem to have assuming that we solve it with maturity, intelligence and forward thinking.  Like many cities in the U.S. right now, we’re at a critical moment in terms of how our current decisions will accommodate the future (or how they might not…)

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One of the residential strategies, that we think is a great solution for urban infill, is the Detached Accessory Dwelling Units (DADUs) – many cities have similar concepts by different names.  They’re also known as “Backyard Cottages” but that just sounds so old-fashioned and some of the applications are actually quite forward thinking.  Basically the Municipal Code allows homeowners in certain areas of the city to construct a small dwelling in their backyard.  As per the City of Seattle literature:

“To ensure the cottages fit within the neighborhood, the lot must be at least 4,000 square feet in area, with minimum width and depth requirements. The principal house and backyard cottage combined must not exceed the current 35% lot coverage limit for single family zones. The cottages can be no more than 800 square feet in area, with a height limit of 15 – 23 foot height depending on lot width, and parking is required.”

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The dwelling can be rented out so long as the owner occupies the main house (or vice versa) which is a huge incentive.  This allows a home owner to play developer and landlord without having to purchase another parcel of land, thereby drastically reducing the risk.

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It also allows homeowners to construct an office or studio space on the premises.  As the relationship between leisure and work continues to change and overlap, the DADU addresses our evolving society quite well.

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Here at BUILD we’ve taken a look at a few DADU schemes in the past and it’s been a satisfying exercise to work through the design variables.  The images above explore a designer’s backyard studio to supplement an existing bungalow.  The scheme accommodates a fantastic view and incorporates a parking spot.  The steep grade allows for beneficial relationships between the grade of parking (determined by a rear alley) and ground plane of the unit.

Currently the program is limited to south-east Seattle and we’re big fans of the city expanding the allowance to other neighborhoods.  There are some very good resources on DADUs including the city’s Client Assistance Memo and the Guide to Building a Backyard Cottage.

DADU diagram

There are a number of handsome DADUs in Seattle area (and elsewhere) – if you know of some thought provoking Detached Accessory Dwelling Unit’s send them our way – we’d love to give them some exposure.