The Dwelling Complex: I. The Ancillary Unit: A. Horizontally Separated Types
ROBERT STEUTEVILLE    OCT. 1, 2003
The previous Technical Page discussed the garage with respect to its use as park- ing, while arguing that its full potential lay as the principal domestic multi-use space. This consideration is not complete without exploration of the other auxiliary living or working spaces that a modern house may include. For the 21st Century, every dwelling, after all, will be to a lesser or greater extent a live-work unit. Variously configured appendages and secondary buildings can enormously augment the flexibility, economics and durability of the main house. The house, loosely freestanding on its lot, is unique among residential building types for possible variety of configurations. This potential flexibility is underexploited, as in American practice it is almost always reduced by the mindless application of conventional setbacks. When liberated from such setback constraints, and bearing certain historic models in mind, the house can be returned to its social and functional apogee — which occurred in the 18th Century — as a compound flexibly accommodating a multi-generational family's evolution. To begin, an ancillary unit can increase the density of use on a given piece of ground. The trick is to do it without compromising the privacy and comfort of the principal dwelling. An ancillary dwelling or work unit situated in a garage or a rear wing of a principal dwelling is common enough, but it is essential that its entrance path and the openings overlooking it be carefully considered. The gain, in particular, should not be made at the expense of the neighbors. varieties of ancillary units There are two primary criteria in the relationship of a main house and a secondary unit — their relative location and their degree of attachment. The ancillary unit may be behind, beside, or in front of the main one; the two may be attached, attached with a linking wing, or detached. By strictly numeric logic, permutation and combination of these produce nine different possible situations. Several of them, for a variety of reasons, are seldom encountered. For example, the ancillary unit attached immediately to the front face of the main house is a violation of the street side façade line and should be avoided as an isolated event. However, when a neighborhood over time becomes denser — which can be termed a "successional" situation — then a new ancillary unit might occupy the front yard, thereby bringing the façade to the sidewalk and creating a tighter, more urban frontage. The standard variants on the ancillary unit are most often built at the outset, retaining the freestanding quality of the house as a type. They are, first, the unit above a detached rear garage or outbuilding — historically very common and quite useful. Second, the ancillary unit attached in a back building arm is also widespread. It is more flexible because it may be at grade, providing an apartment for a senior citizen or anyone else for whom stairs may be undesirable. A third interesting variant is the ancillary unit in a wing to the front, entered through the forecourt that it defines. It provides the most separate and private entrance conditions. Subsequent technical pages will consider these ancillary units in greater detail. Each situation has intrinsic attributes that are evident enough. They all enable a dwelling compound to be suitable at the moment of construction and also in anticipation of the changing needs of the households that occupy it over time. As resilience is a responsibility of a building in an urban time frame, this capacity of the suburban house makes it, curiously, the most adaptable of all types.