Backyard BI(h)OME shelter can provide affordable housing in LA gardens

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The Backyard BI(h)OME is designed to be affordable, lightweight, customizable and environmentally-friendly

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A team from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) has designed a shelter that it says can tackle LA's housing crisis in an environmentally-friendly manner. The Backyard BI(h)OME is affordable, low impact and recyclable. What's more, it can be easily constructed in people's back gardens.

In his Sustainable City Plan, LA Mayor Eric Garcetti has set a target of building 100,000 additional housing units by 2021. Professor at the UCLA School of the Arts and Architecture and director of the university's cityLAB Dana Cuff says this can be achieved without needing to buy vacant land or bulldoze existing buildings.

There are just under 460,000 single family lots in LA with an estimated total of around 3,800 acres of underutilized space in their backyards. This, coupled with recent legislation that made it easier to construct a second dwelling unit on each property in LA, is the basis for Backyard BI(h)OME.

Cuff argues that if around a fifth of those underutilized spaces could be used for housing one or two people, LA's targeted number of new housing units could be met. With this in mind, he went about designing an affordable, customizable, environmentally-sensitive shelter that could house one to two people and be built on a backyard lot. He worked on the project with students and faculty members of the UCLA architectural and urban design department and UCLA College’s environmental humanities program, as well as Kevin Daly Architects.

Some would argue that few people would want to sacrifice space in their backyard for the sake of helping to meet LA's housing needs. However, as a simple and affordable means of creating a home that can then be rented out, the Backyard BI(h)OME could offer a potentially attractive supplementary income over its projected 10-15 year lifespan.

The shelter has a footprint of just 350 sq ft (33 sq m) and is designed to minimize weight, material usage and waste, use non-permanent foundations, be easy to source and ship, be easy to disassemble and be recyclable/reusable.

Its simple construction uses fabric sheeting embedded with solar panels wrapped around a framework of electrical conduit pipes. The floor and end walls are fashioned from wood and there are openings for light and ventilation.

There is a stone gabion around the outside of the Backyard BI(h)OME and a small wooden deck at the front, with a slide-out bench. It is designed for "multi-species cohabitation," with nooks and crannies able to be built into the walls to provide a habitat or biome (hence the shelter's name) for for lizards, field mice, bees, birds and bats. Alternatively, an edible garden can be planted. Exterior overhangs are built into the design to provide cover for these spaces.

It's designed with a compact kitchen and a greywater recycling system that collects wastewater from the kitchen, bathroom sink and shower for use on the surrounding backyard habitat. A compostable toilet also contributes to the shelter's sustainable and environmentally-friendly feature set.

All the materials needed to build the shelter can be carried onto site and hand-assembled by two people. The steel and wood frame, the floor and the skin can all be easily recycled or reused.

Work on designing the Backyard BI(h)OME began in January this year and a pared-back prototype was displayed at the Broad Art Center in LA from June 10-17.

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