Future Living with Architect Maureen Scally
An architect is required to be a master of many physical details in our world. The laws of physics and mathematics are essential to their work, but, the desire to dream of what could be and express themselves as artists is just as important. When you think of the great cities you long to visit, they are defined most by the buildings and structures which have become synonymous with these locations. The architect, therefore, is just as important at shaping our appreciation of the world as the most influential artists. Maureen Scally is an architect. Her focus is on the way the world is changing and how people will live in it. At present, Scally is responsible for 10 residential projects in Laguna Beach, California. She works for James Conrad, a locally renowned architect whom she credits with guiding her in their shared vision of positively influencing the development of society through architecture. According to Scally, Conrad is renowned for his enormous passion for conscientious development and penchant for honesty.
Together, and along with coworker Ali Ashouriha, Scally and Conrad have embarked on a venture that seeks to address the future of daily living in a manner that marries quality with quantity. Conrad, Scally and Ashouriha have identified accessory dwelling units, commonly referred to as ADUs or casitas, as a solution to the affordable housing crisis that has been created by the significant increases in the cost of real estate over the course of the past two decades. While a number of projects Scally has worked on are of a grand scale, such as the 2018 Youth Olympic Village in Buenos Aires, Oceana Puerto Madero luxury apartment complex, and others, Scally is convinced that she needs to focus on the inverse of these in order to present an appealing option for twenty-first century habitation. Scally believes that these are the answer to many of the obstacles for people seeking affordable housing.
Casitas or ADUs are habitable spaces constructed on the site of an already existing structure, typically a home. An ADU can be a converted garage or a small freestanding unit (typically 500-1,200 sq. ft.) While the 1980s whispered to society “you need more and you need bigger”, the 2010s profess, “what you need is something that fits your lifestyle and benefits you financially.” Ironically, Scally’s appreciation for miniature multi-purpose structures rose from Scally’s work on projects like the Youth Olympic Village, which were designed to last and transform their purpose/use over many decades. She illustrates, “I think that ADUs propose a flexible use of space rather than a rigid one. They are conceived and designed to consider contemporary construction guidelines and practices while responding to the actual needs of residents. ADUs eliminate the need for single purpose spaces by requiring the use of a design that maximizes space. The downsizing of living space isn’t an option, and the consequence is that people make conscious decisions about how they use living space. Gone is the wastage of space that is exemplified in the big houses of old with anterooms that separated dining rooms from living rooms, long corridors that led to bedrooms, kitchens with separate rooms for dishwashing, mezzanines and long galleries. Think about the amount of material, the structural complexity, the weight of the walls, and the years it took to finish such constructions.” Juxtaposing this antiquated image against the promise of ADUs to be both comforting and efficient in their design is perhaps the most stark revelation of their benefits. ADUs offer unparalleled structural simplicity and optimize the usage of space.
There’s no question that the world is in a housing crisis that effects nearly everyone. Linked to this is the financial challenges felt by all. While the prior model for owning rental units was extremely costly, involving large structures with multiple units and a staff to manage them, ADUs are substantially less cost prohibitive. Inherent in the ADU design is a more compact living space but that does not mean less attractive or sacrificing luxury. In fact, these smaller spaces require less cost and materials, thus allowing for higher quality materials and amenities. The spaces are designed for multiple types of activities. The bedroom can also be a place of study and work. Common spaces such as living rooms are transformed into flexible spaces for entertainment, office work, physical exercise, or meditation. In terms of a living space, the analogy of a Swiss Army Knife is highly appropriate.
ADUs offer greater financial stability and control, an idea that’s appealing to everyone. Because ADUs don’t require the purchase of additional land and have greatly reduced costs because they are especially suited for dry-construction, which utilizes cheap materials and avoids the use of plaster or mortar. Building an ADU is therefore much cheaper than building a new structure. Once built, owners have the option to rent the unit, use it for guests or elderly family members, or as their own studio/work spaces. Scally describes the process as follows: “[a]n architect or architecture studio is hired to design the house according to your needs. After generating the documentation required, they will submit the plans to the city hall. Once the plans are approved, construction begins.” According to Scally, “ADU construction usually takes half the time or less than that of a conventional home. Dry construction deadlines are shorter and strictly adhered to, a difficult aspect in traditional construction which usually takes more time than stipulated and is accompanied by increasing labor costs. Furthermore, dry construction sites by definition are cleaner and free of debris, which eliminates extra effort.” Scally is careful to stipulate, “There is a common denominator in this type of housing and it is that they belong to the owner of a lot where another construction already exists. Common examples are a house in a neighborhood with a generous garden, or a house in the center of a city with a large garage. The possibilities when deciding where to place these accessory units are subject to the laws and the restrictions of each state, province, county, or city.”
Potentially one of the most optimistic views regarding the societal benefits of ADUs is how they hint at supporting society. In addition to allowing owners to generate additional income through rental, ADUs may actually have the effect of integrating society. It is true that economic factors influence everything from safety in neighborhoods to the quality of education available to the children of a particular area. Because ADUs can present as affordable rentals, they could potentially allow people of different income levels to live within upscale geographic locations and avail themselves of the benefits of living in such locations. ADU residents will undoubtedly interact with their neighbors, which could possibly be the key to increasing population intermingling. On a grand scale, ADUs could have the peripherally beneficial outcome of creating a less polarized world. Whether it’s a renter previously unknown to you or your somewhat abrasive uncle from a different part of the country, chances are you will find something to agree upon and thereby become more accepting of those with different views. Scally agrees, “ADUs are a way to gently and incrementally make a neighborhood less exclusionary. They are a relatively affordable rental option for those who do not wish to or have the resources to become homeowners. They are a valuable source of income for their landlords, who are usually established residents, as opposed to developers who may have no ties to the neighborhood or even the city. ADUs add pedestrians to the sidewalks, customers to local businesses, and dollars to the tax base that pays for city services. They do all of this while making more efficient use of infrastructure that already exists.” She continues, “ADUs generate what’s called diversity regarding urban planning. There are many areas of cities which are designated or thought of as being strictly for certain types of people. It could be based on economic status or race. ADUs can help diminish the inaccessibility of certain areas, especially where cost of living is a barrier to entry. Scally is a living example of this. She lives in an ADU in Laguna Beach, which has, arguably, some of the most expensive real estate in the world. Her little ADU affords her the opportunity to have an ocean view that she would otherwise be required to pay millions of dollars to have. According to Scally, “If the landlord of my home hadn’t built this or thought about the fantastic use of generating a place like this, I probably wouldn’t be living in Laguna Beach where my work office is located. I would probably have to live further away, and that would mean upwards of thirty minutes of daily commute, which is nothing for L.A. but traffic Is a clear reflection of density and population growth which needs to be relieved and why not think about ADUs as an answer.”