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Northwood ADU


Ann Arbor, MI, United States

Feburary 2022


Elanor (Abrons)



Ellie Abrons and Adam Fure


Chris Miele


If affordability is an explicit mandate of ADUs, making cheap construction a priority, then any aesthetic strategy must complement an economic one. The house is built as an efficient, continuous shell of structural insulated panels (SIPS) on a shallow, frost-protected slab foundation. The interior finishes express the primacy of shell and slab, while interior assemblies are expressed separately as layers and stacks. Exposed LSL joists and painted brackets introduce texture and color without extraneous finishes. On the exterior, metal roof panels wrap down to meet a layer of open metal mesh, giving the envelope a shimmery quality without affordable materials and detailing.

The ADU’s compact size is determined by zoning regulations that include maximum square footage (800), setbacks (5 foot side, 30 foot rear), and height limits (21 feet). Although small, the experience of the space is expanded by expressing the volumetric interior of the SIPS shell where possible. The single bedroom sits atop a pavilion-like structure over the kitchen. The compressed footprint is further countered through opening up the interior to a rear patio and wooded area beyond with a wall of windows. The opaque edge between the ADU and main house maintains the privacy of each household, while skylights allow the ADU interior to be daylit morning to afternoon. Along with the ample daylighting, the highly insulated SIPS envelope and radiant heated floors keep the interior pleasant in the cold Michigan winters and allow the tenants to enjoy low energy costs.


As an urban strategy, Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) are increasingly popular in cities with housing shortages as they double the number of households on a residential lot. Economically, ADUs diversify the housing stock of existing neighborhoods by strategically inserting rental units of modest scale and cost. Northwood ADU adds a small, independent residential unit to the backyard of an existing single-family residence in Ann Arbor–one of the city’s first to be completed under recent zoning ordinance changes.

Northwood ADU emerged from a pivot in T+E+A+M’s work from more speculative work toward a desire to be engaged locally and build buildings that can have positive impact. In southeast Michigan, as in many American cities, decades of restrictive zoning laws and redlining have shaped where people live and who has access to the most celebrated housing American typology, the single-family home. Having researched construction techniques and designed “missing middle” housing for a neighborhood in east Detroit, T+E+A+M became more and more eager to find ways to increase density, grow housing stock, and reduce construction costs. The ADU is a self-initiated project to prototype design and construction of attainable housing.


The project has generated excitement about Accessory Dwelling Units in Ann Arbor and has garnered local media attention. It has been included on several tours and has generated interest from local residents hoping to contribute to solving the housing crisis in Ann Arbor.

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