Built in the middle of what was probably an empty block in 1906 these two 700 square foot “earthquake huts” have remained hidden from view in their private garden for over a hundred years. Unseen, except by the houses that back onto them from all sides, they are accessed via a three foot wide, seventy foot long passage beneath one of the town houses on Bush Street. The previous owner, a retired postal worker, had lived in one of the houses since the 1930’s, before leaving both properties to one of her tenants.

Project Name: Bush Street House
Studio Name: Messana O’Rorke
San Francisco, United States
Photography: Eric Laignel

Bush Street House by Messana O'Rorke - Sheet1
Study Area ©Eric Laignel

The facades of both the cottages were deemed historic by the city and their occupancy on their two separate tax lots was optimized. The city required that both structures needed to be permitted separately before a zoning variance could establish that the two dwellings could become one.

Bush Street House by Messana O'Rorke - Sheet2
Bedroom ©Eric Laignel

Our challenge was to tie the two buildings together creating one continuous internal living space while maintaining the appearance of two individual dwellings from the outside and only make the connection between the two once core renovation had been completed. This was achieved by means of a glass gasket between the two structures.

Bush Street House by Messana O'Rorke - Sheet3
Front View ©Eric Laignel

The entry cottage contains the living room and fire place and has a wall of french doors that open onto the rear yard, the second cottage contains the private quarters of the house, the bedroom, bathrooms and study; in between the two the glass gasket is the galley kitchen.


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