Social Studies Projects dances with ADU zoning laws for the economic House for Two Writers

Young firms often have to cut their teeth on small renovation projects. Going from large residential works to these economical ones may seem like moving backwards, but for the team at Los Angeles’s Social Studies Projects (SSP) strength lies in constraint. That was the guiding ethos for House of Two Writers, a detached, two-story ADU in the city’s Atwater Village that dances between a new build and renovation thanks to the emerging firm and collaborator Giorgio Angelini’s deft maneuvering.

The homeowners, a pair of writers-directors, approached SSP with a need for an ADU when a previous scheme from a different firm came back too costly. The brief emphasized budgetary and spatial concerns as well as a need to be flexible: a place for the clients to host group writing sessions and a guest house for in-laws when they come for long-term stays. SSP’s solution was to incorporate the footprint of an existing garage, built right up to the property line, and reuse what’s viable of the pre-existing structure—just the two walls along the property line and a slab on grade.

Not only does this preserve the maximum area of the backyard, but it also means that the architects were able to carve out a more expansive lot for the ADU while still building practically a new property. “In L.A., the maximum ADU size you can build on a lot is 1,200 square feet,” principal and creative director of SSP, Mary Casper, explained to AN Interior. “But the zoning constraint is that for ADU laws now you have to have a 5-foot setback on the rear in the side yard of the property. If you have a legal structure that existed previously that you’re converting to an ADU, you get to inherit those smaller setbacks. So we got grandfathered into an almost zero setback on those two walls.”


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