British Columbia

'Gentle densification': Unique West End development puts 6 units on single family lot

A Vancouver architecture firm is pushing the concept of "gentle densification" with a unique project in the West End that puts six units of dedicated rental housing on a single family lot.

'We want Vancouverites to see one form of up-zoning that isn't scary'

The award-winning project, called "the Mole Hill Missing Middle," wouldn't be allowed across much of Vancouver because of zoning regulations, but is permitted in the West End. (silentSama architectural photography)

A Vancouver architecture firm is pushing the concept of "gentle densification" with a unique project in the West End that puts six units of dedicated rental housing on a single family lot.

Shirley Shen, co-founder of Haeccity Studio Architecture, explained that gentle densification goes beyond secondary suites and laneway houses — it means coming up with ways to redesign single-family lots as multi-family lots.

The project, called the Mole Hill Missing Middle, wouldn't be allowed across much of Vancouver because of zoning regulations, but is permitted in the West End.

"We want Vancouverites to see one form of up-zoning that isn't scary, so we're not shutting down the conversation," Shen said.

The design is split in two, with a courtyard in the middle, and all units have their own ground-level entrances. Half of the units feature two or more bedrooms.

Half the units feature two or more bedrooms. (silentSama architectural photography)

"Everyone gets to share in this very lovely outdoor space. It's not like your typical apartment where you're entering through a lobby and not interacting with your neighbours. The spaces in between all the houses are used and are social spaces," Shen said.

Travis Hanks, Haeccity Studio Architecture principal, said one of the project's goals is to increase the number of choices that exist around housing, without catering to one kind of resident or family.

Hanks said that while he hopes it will open up housing options without fundamentally changing residential neighbourhoods, it will take more from policy-makers to solve Vancouver's affordability crisis.

The design is split in two, with a courtyard in the middle, and all units have their own ground-level entrances. (silentSama architectural photography)

"In order for us to realistically address the question of affordability we do have to open up our minds a little bit about what that potential could look like and how that stands to change our city over time," he said.

Shen said they hope to see the project duplicated in other neighbourhoods, with more units in dense downtown areas, and lots divided into two in areas like Marpole, where families might require more space and multiple parking spots.

In September, Vancouver city council voted to rezone the majority of the city to allow duplexes in single-family home neighbourhoods.

The city is currently working on a housing plan called "Making Room," which aims to deliver housing that falls between single-family homes and higher density apartments.

With files from Deborah Goble

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