The city’s plan for pre-approved DADUs shouldn’t require uncompensated labor.

It has been nearly two years since Mayor Durkan directed the Seattle Department of Construction and Inspections to fast-track pre-approved designs of backyard cottages. At the time of the announcement, the Mayor’s Office stated, ‘The City will hire architects to develop several standard architectural plans for backyard cottages that could be built and permitted more quickly and at a lower cost to residents.’

In July of 2019, over a year after the mayor’s office announced the city would hire architects to do this work, Durkan signed an Executive Order that stated this intent again, ‘directive to Seattle Department of Construction and Inspections (SDCI) to fast-track pre-approved designs for Detached Accessory Dwelling Units (DADUs) by hiring architects to develop several standard architectural plans for backyard cottages that could be built and permitted more quickly and at a lower cost to residents’

By Fall of 2019, that statement — to pay architects for their labor — had been eliminated, to a call for submissions. The submittals are due 17 February, 2020. The submissions will be reviewed by a number of people, including fellow planners and architects. The report on the selection process states that 6–10 submissions will be approved. For this level of submission, entrants are required to submit the following items:

  • 150 word description of the project.
  • Narrative of how project meets the submittal design guideline.
  • An estimate of construction costs
  • Dimensioned floor plans
  • Building sections showing wall and roof assemblies
  • Building elevations
  • 3D views for marketing
  • Major materials list
  • A list of mechanical systems
  • Price for the plan (max of $1,000), with how much the hourly rate is for further work (siting, landscape, etc).

That’s quite a bit of unpaid labor for a designer to submit. But it actually gets worse. If, on the off chance your submission is accepted, the city will require even *more* uncompensated labor from design firms. If the set is accepted, a full permit-ready set must be submitted for approval. This includes the following items:

  • Glazing schedules
  • Door schedules
  • Framing and foundation plans
  • Energy calculations or prescriptive energy code compliance documents
  • Heating equipment sizing calculations
  • Structural notes and calculations
  • A memorandum of agreement outlining issues related to copyright, liability, etc .

The Mayor’s big proposal to save money on DADUs comes by reducing the cost of labor to the very folks who design them. I’ve worked on a few DADUs, and the design costs for these have generally been north of $15k . While a DADU is smaller than a house, the required documents for submittal are effectively the same as a house. It’s almost the same amount of work.

It takes a fair amount of time to design a code-compliant DADU, prepare all of the necessary marketing images for it, plan assemblies that meet (or exceed) the energy code, and prepare documents for a permit-ready submittal. On top of this, the city is basically telling the architect to hire a structural engineer with their own money — on the off-chance that over the next few years, perhaps they will get more than 15–20 people to pick their design and build it.

Furthermore, the city’s pre-approved DADU submission guide, states that the city will, ‘aim to support and draw on the diverse experience and expertise of Seattle’s design and homebuilding professionals, especially early-career architects, emerging professionals, and women- and minority-owned businesses (WMBE).’ These are the very groups the city should be *paying* to do work! I have also had several architects reach out to me and state that this is not only inequitable, but that other cities are in fact holding RFPs and paying architects to develop pre-approved backyard cottage plans for their jurisdictions.

This is ridiculous. If the mayor originally committed to *hiring* architects to develop a series of backyard cottages for pre-approved designs, the city should follow through. The entrants whose proposals are accepted should be paid a stipend to bring their designs up to the level that is needed for getting these submissions permit-ready. Reducing the cost to build a backyard cottage by forcing architects to provide free labor is truly disheartening. And frankly, something our millionaire mayor should know better than to authorize.

dad | designer | writer | Noted shill for housing. interests: Baugruppen, architecture, passivhaus, mass timber, staedtebau, not for profit housing

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