Multi-family rental project in the West End a case study for the future of Vancouver’s single family neighbourhoods Characterized by the layering of many periods of the city’s history, the West End neighbourhood in downtown Vancouver showcases a diverse range of heritage buildings from the early 1900s. It is this context, and the Mole Hill block in particular, that becomes home to Haeccity Studio Architecture’s most recently completed infill housing projects.
Project Name: Mole Hill Missing Mi
Studio Name: Haeccity Studio Architecture
Location: Vancouver , Canada
Photography: Sama Jim Canzian
At a time when housing choice is a pressing issue in Vancouver, Haeccity addresses this need by proposing a three-storey walk-up, offering six dedicated rental units for tenancy with a rooftop, green roof and shared courtyard that supports the retention of an existing mature Cypress tree. Sandwiched in between a seven storey heritage building and a two-and-a- half storey heritage house, principal Travis Hanks explains, “This project was largely about unlocking the potential for contextual multi-family housing on a standard 33’ x 122’ single family lot. Previously a 1950s bungalow, there are now potentially six households on that lot.”
The heritage context of the neighbourhood notably shaped the contemporary structure that gently inserts itself among the Victorian and Edwardian buildings. Its modern expression makes a deliberate nod to some of the more traditional typologies of the neighbouring Mole Hill Houses, articulated through the sloped roof, separate exterior dwelling entrances, and a network of intimate paths and walkways.
Although confronted with challenging zoning and bylaw limitations, the resulting expression is very sculptural. At first glance, it could be easily assumed that the cantilevers and unique formal moves are simply stylistic when in actuality; these gestures are determined by setbacks, fire, egress, and site conditions. They are thoughtfully responding to all the parameters that are pushing and pulling the volumes around in order to find the most efficient use within a very constrained site.
Haeccity’s project successfully responds to spatial limitations of the site
as well as to the parameters set by municipal policies and the West End Community Plan, while considering key issues such as walkability, transit, car sharing, housing diversity, accessibility, and aging in place.
MISSING MIDDLE TYPOLOGY
Not quite a single-family home, and yet not a soaring condo tower, the missing middle typology offers something in between. In rethinking the possibilities for urban dwelling, it’s a solution that calls for incremental densification without drastically disrupting the character and community of existing neighbourhoods. The Comox Street project and its lessons would ultimately provide the framework for Haeccity Studio’s design rationale in the 2018 Urbanarium Missing Middle Design Competition, garnering them both the First and Planners Prizes.
The location, site constraints, and built form would render this project an effective prototype for the award-winning proposal by developing responsive, small-scale ground-oriented, multi-family housing that is largely “missing” from Vancouver’s urban fabric.
Comox Street embodies the desirable qualities of a missing middle typology, including walkable urban living, accessibility to a middle-income household, and housing diversity, which are all essential to the continued fostering of a city’s social and cultural vibrancy.