How the B.C. government might build homes more quickly and efficiently

0

Effort to create new design templates is sparking references to the Vancouver special — a standard design offered by the city between 1965 to 1985

Article content

As the province sets out to develop plans to build new homes more quickly and efficiently, builders suggest a variety of ideas could be explored, such as the use of prefabricated materials that come in Lego-like kits, or selecting designs from a set of photos and descriptions, similar to how you might pick clothing from a catalogue.

Earlier this month, the B.C. government announced it was looking to hire a consultant to develop the parameters for creating standardized designs for small-scale, multi-unit homes, such as townhomes, triplexes and laneway homes. Standardized designs, the theory goes, can streamline the permit process and save time and money.

Advertisement 2

Article content

Article content

Jake Fry, CEO of Small Works Ltd., a Vancouver builder who specializes in laneway homes, suggests one way to achieve this goal, while offering homeowners “mass customization,” would be to offer sets of materials in the same way kits of Lego, the plastic construction toy, are packaged.

“We’re putting together components so that you get that box of Lego, for lack of a better way of explaining it. … So long as you stay within that box of Lego, you can build whatever you want and you can have a permit for it,” says Fry.

vancouver special
The province’s effort to create new design templates has led to references to the Vancouver special, which refers to the standard housing design known for its boxy shape that maximized square footage on small lots that was offered by the City of Vancouver between 1965 and 1985. Photo by RICHARD LAM /PNG

Instead of using raw materials, builders would put together pieces such as bathroom pods, modular kitchens, bathrooms and mechanical rooms that come in one prefabricated unit and walls that can go together in different configurations.

The province’s effort to create new design templates has led to references to the Vancouver special, which refers to the standard housing design known for its boxy shape that maximized square footage on small lots that was offered by the City of Vancouver between 1965 and 1985.

The province also could choose to emulate what Kelowna, North Okanagan and Nelson have already been doing, which is building a catalogue of pre-approved options.

Article content

Advertisement 3

Article content

The Regional District of North Okanagan has a list of 13 approved designs and charges $1,000 for a set of printed plans, a PDF and a quicker application review process. There are one- and two- storey, as well as one- and two-bedroom designs with a range of names similar to what you might see in an old-fashioned catalogue: Single Storey, The Louise, The Sprout, Familiar Faces, The Francis, The Garden Cube and The Willow.

bryn davidson
Bryn Davidson, co-owner of Lanefab Design/ Build. Photo by Jason Payne /PNG

When the City of Kelowna held a competition in 2021-22 seeking designs for infill homes that could be pre-approved and fast-tracked, it got a deluge of submissions from across B.C. and North America. The winning design featuring four units in two houses of differing heights came from a Mexico City-based architect.

“It will be interesting to see what the province gets,” said city planner James Moore.

Davidson thinks that at a high level, it’s a good idea for the province to be pursuing a set of pre-approved plans, but there are challenges.

“When it comes down to the nitty gritty of it, how easily can a one-size-fits-all plan, even if there are 10 different ones, fit into all the different circumstances.”

Advertisement 4

Article content

arno matis
Architect Arno Matis at his firm’s office in Vancouver. Photo by Jason Payne /PNG

In order for designs to be successful, they will have to have a high degree of flexibility, agrees Vancouver architect Arno Matis.

“In the Lower Mainland, there are slopes, terrain, trees. Every time you have a unique condition, you’ll have to adapt the standardized plan.”

It will be important for designs to be efficient enough so that features such as wheelchair access can be added, says Jim Bussey of Formwerks Architecture.

Moore, the Kelowna city planner, says “designs need to be economically viable and buildable. It’s not enough that they are energy efficient or great looking.”

It takes going through the building process several times to establish the financial appeal of a design, so it makes sense to collect a database of plans that are successful and refresh the collection every few years.

Fry says that in addition to tying permits to approved plans and boxes of components, being able to assign strata titles to these properties will be key.

Homeowners wanting to maximize land they already own and live on by adding a few units will likely be the ones who use these standardized plans, says Fry.

Advertisement 5

Article content

kelowna infill challenge
The first place entry for Infill Challenge Design Competition 2.0. The designer is Miguel Angel Jimenez Gonzalez Cruz. Photo by City of Kelowna
kelowna infill challenge
The second place entry for Infill Challenge Design Competition 2.0, named Mosaic. The designer is Bluegreen Architecture. Photo by City of Kelowna
Kelowna infill challenge
The third place entry for Infill Challenge Design Competition 2.0, named The Garden Cluster. The designer is Twobytwo Architecture Studio. Photo by City of Kelowna

[email protected]

Recommended from Editorial


Bookmark our website and support our journalism: Don’t miss the news you need to know — add VancouverSun.com and TheProvince.com to your bookmarks and sign up for our newsletters here.

You can also support our journalism by becoming a digital subscriber: For just $14 a month, you can get unlimited, ad-lite access to The Vancouver Sun, The Province, National Post and 13 other Canadian news sites. Support us by subscribing today: The Vancouver Sun | The Province.

Article content

link

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *