UCLA responds to the housing crisis: A tiny, pop-up home for the backyard

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Deep inside the UCLA campus sits a light-filled, futuristic-looking structure the size of a two-car garage. Sheathed in plastic, a skeleton of steel, wood and cardboard peeks through.  

It’s called BI(h)OME, and it’s one UCLA design team’s response to the housing shortage in Los Angeles.

“This is intended to be something that anybody can put into their backyard,” said Dana Cuff, the architecture professor who leads UCLA’s design think tank cityLAB

Cuff said the houses would add living space without changing the façade of neighborhoods. And it would serve any number of housing needs.

“You might want your parents to live with you as they get older,” Cuff said. “Maybe for a while your college-age kid moves back because they don’t have a job.”

cityLAB's Dana Cuff inside a demonstration model of a BI(h)OME. (photo: Susanica Tam)

Designers say that their house is one tool Mayor Garcetti could employ in his plan to build 100,000 new units by 2021. Cuff said that there are about 500,000 single-family homes in the city. If just 20 percent of those homes added these tiny structures in their backyards, she said, the mayor would have met his target.

But the designers recognize there are hurdles. For one, adding housing in L.A. means having to add parking, and not every lot has the space to do that.

Kevin Daly, the Santa Monica architect who led faculty and students in the design of Bi(h)OME, wants to pilot a program with the city of Los Angeles that would include parking exemptions for these houses.

“We’ve got a big problem, and at some level, the time for baby steps is gone,” Daly said. “Let’s work politically to give 500 or 1,000 exemptions to parking requirements, and let’s see what starts happening when these things start appearing in neighborhoods.”  

Asked about the UCLA proposal, the mayor’s office said it’s open to taking another look at zoning regulations for backyard housing like BI(h)OME.

The team must also figure how best to finance and mass-produce the homes. The goal is to price the house at about $55,000, Cuff said.

That's about the price of an Airstream trailer, and it's as easy to move in and out of a backyard as an Airstream. The designers say the house would come in a flat package — not unlike furnishings from Ikea. It could be dismantled when no longer needed, and sold to someone else who wants their own BI(h)OME.

The house is riding the wave of the ‘tiny home’ movement, where living space serves multiple functions.

For example, the living room would convert into a bedroom with the flip of a Murphy bed in the wall. And a bench at the dining room table can be rotated to the outside of the house to be used as a porch bench. 


But not everyone’s sold on this kind of living. UCLA student Aaron Ebriani, who regularly walks past the house on campus, said it's interesting to look at, but he wouldn’t want to live in it.  

“It looks like a tent or something to have a wedding in,” Ebriani said. He said he prefers his homes made of brick and mortar. 

Take a look yourself — BI(h)OME will be on display at UCLA's Broad Art Center through September.

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