Dec 2nd 2022

IIT Architecture Students Explore a Home in Everyone’s Backyard

Chicago, much like the rest of the nation, is in the midst of an affordable housing crisis, and while policymakers work to find solutions, IIT College of Architecture students are exploring how a cozy backyard home could change the dynamic of residential neighborhoods.

Second-year studios, under the direction of Professor in Practice Jennifer Park, are designing a coach house or similar additional dwelling unit (ADU) for Chicago neighborhoods. These spaces, which range from garden-level apartments to structures specifically built as a small secondary home, are one option for increasing density in residential neighborhoods while giving the landowners additional rental income.

“A shortage of affordable housing is a huge issue in every city,” Park notes. “In the second-year studio, we tackle that issue. It’s important for students to not just understand building and construction, but also why we do it and the potential impacts on the environment and community.”

The studio started three years ago, after Chicago officials approved a pilot program meant to encourage residents from dozens of neighborhoods to create ADUs. In the early twentieth century, coach houses and granny flats were a common site at the back of a 125-foot-long lot—the typical Chicago plot size.

Zoning changes ended the coach house era in 1957, but the 2020 pilot program is bringing the concept back. Park saw the move as a new opportunity for second-year students, “who are, for the first time, exploring the full process of designing—from context to means of construction—while understanding how to live comfortably and efficiently.”

Students are running with the idea of building a comfortable 700-square-foot space. Some are transforming standalone garages. Others are building entirely new structures. All are designing for Chicago’s largely residential Bridgeport neighborhood.

“For the students, the challenge is discovering how to live comfortably in a small space,” Park says. “The city’s ADU pilot program is a driver for working within real-world constraints, which extend beyond space limits. We don’t design in a vacuum; we must get community buy-in. It’s their creativity and design, but they’re folding in the voice of everyone else.”

Faculty members leading the fall 2021 second-year studios include program director Jennifer Park, Michael Glynn, Vincent Calabro, Annabell Ren, Aura Venckunaite, David Rader, and Kristen Jones. Current studio faculty include Park, co-director Glynn, Calabro, Venckunaite, Alex Shelly; Akima Brackeen, and Morgynn Wiley.