The Urban House: A New Vancouver Special

The future of Vancouver’s urbanism hinges on establishing a new “Vancouver Special”: a building product that is adaptable, fee-simple, and can build incrementally. The urban house adds 6 times more density per lot than suburban cottages, yet retains the hallmark characteristics of residential neighbourhoods, including: an address and door on the street; gardens and yards; rear access parking; affordable rental unit(s); and human scale.

The Charrette tested a new building type with the following characteristics:

    • Incremental (no land assembly)
    • Fee Simple
    • Mortgage Helper Suite(s)
    • Door on the Street
    • Dual Aspect (units open on street & lane sides)
    • Front & Rear Garden
    • Roof terrace
    • Rear lane access
    • Parks up to 3 cars off street
    • Human Scale
    • High Density

Measured at the scale of the quartier as a whole, urban houses achieve equivalent densities to tower and podium districts, while delivering clear advantages in livability and affordability. The width of the urban house varies with the lot frontage. Vancouver—platted with 25-foot, 33-foot, and 50-foot frontages—is ready-made for lot sub-division. Two zero-side-yard houses can fit on one lot cutting land cost in half (i.e. no premium for land assembly). The most difficult case, 12.5-foot wide urban house, is illustrated here. It combines rear, centre, and front door yards with a highly flexible plan offering several configurations:

    • One 3,200 sq. ft. house;
    • One 2,200 sq. ft house; and 1,000 sq. ft. rental;
    • One 1,600 sq. ft. house; and two 800 sq. ft. rentals, or
    • One 1,600 sq. ft. house; and one 1,600 sq. ft. Rental (the “stacked town house” option);
    • Four 800 sq. ft. apartments; or
    • Eight 400 sq. ft. Micro suites (Single Room Occupancy replacements).

Well-established in Canada, North America, and Western Europe, the urban house was banned in the Vancouver City Charter. This in spite of the fact that it is the best building type for building high-density quartiers that support social mixing.

© Lewis N. Villegas, Vancouver, January 2012.

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