This website was first developed as graduate thesis project in 2021 and has since evolved in other media.

Conrad Speckert
M.Arch, McGill University

For inquiries:
conrad.speckert@mail.mcgill.ca



This website is a tool to make sense of the requirement for a second means of egress in Canada and prepare a building code change request.

The first section documents the history of the building code requirement for two means of egress in Canada, situates this issue within the imperative of ‘missing middle’ densification and calls upon architects to challenge the legislative conditions of their work. The next section compares jurisdictions to better understand the Canadian code relative to its peers, followed by the code change request. The last section reimagines what could and should be built if it were legal, illustrating these opportunities with several case studies in alternative circulation.

The Manual of Illegal Floor Plans is a collection of single staircase residential projects that are not permitted to be built in Canada, serving as reference library to reconsider the requirement for a second means of egress.




Timeline




March 30, 2024
Mark Chubb writes ‘Are Two Exit Stairways Always Safer than One?’ to respond to recent discussions at the International Code Council (ICC) and compare IBC model code compliance with Seattle’s single stair conditions for small multi-unit residential buildings of up to 6 storeys.

The advocates for the status quo ante have no evidence two exit stairways make small-footprint multi-family dwellings less than six stories less safe than they will be with a single stairway and the myriad conditions attached to this allowance in the Seattle requirements and most legislative proposals for single stair reform in North America...”


March 28, 2024
The UK government’s Health and Safety Executive (HSE) publishes the final report of the ‘Means of escape in residential buildings research’ and includes several appendices on physical measures (A1-1) and international guidance (A1-2), current trends in residential buildings (A1-3), resident decision-making (B1), a proposed exemplar building and model selection (A), methodology and findings from interviews and surveys (B2), and a method to quantify effectiveness of evacuation strategies (A3).


March 26, 2024
Stephen Smith and Ed Mendoza co-author a Point Access Block Building Design: Options for Building More Single-Stair Apartment Buildings in North America, a policy brief for Cityscape journal, published by the Office of Policy Development and Research of HUD, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.


March 01, 2024
The Board of Directors of the U.S. National Association of State Fire Marshals issues a Position  in Opposition of Single-Exit Stairway in Multifamily Structures position paper and the International Association of Fire Chiefs issues a similar Position Statement two days later.

Given neither of these documents make reference to jurisdictions outside North America, please note that the title of the IAFC including the word “International” is based on having divisions located in Canada and the United States.


February 25, 2024
‘Colorado could allow more single-stair apartment buildings, but fire chiefs worry about safety‘ including an interview with architect Sean Jursnick to discuss the proposed change to the state building code.


February 2024
PUBLIC Architecture publishes the BC Housing Single Stair Report in collaboration with GHL Consultants, LGA Architectural Partners and RTA Quantity Surveyors.

The report was commissioned and principally funded under BC Housing's Building Excellence Research & Education Grants and by the City of Vancouver, as well as the CMHC-SSHRC Balanced Supply of Housing Node based at UBC’s Housing Research Collaborative.



January 26, 2024
The BC provincial government issues a request for proposal (RFP) seeking a response from consultants with expertise in building design, engineering, and fire and life safety to better understand the potential for single egress stair (SES) designs in B.C. buildings.”


December 11, 2023
Uytae Lee of About Here Videos produces a short documentary about single stair design titled Why North America Can't Build Nice Apartments” to raise awareness for the Vancouver Urbanarium ‘Decoding Density‘ architectural ideas competition.




December 5, 2023
The British Columbia Minister of Housing, Ravi Kahlon, announces The province will lead a discussion over the next year to update the BC Building Code to explore enabling single egress stairs, that will allow some buildings to be built more efficiently.

“The Province, along with fire-safety professionals and national partners, is examining opportunities in codes, including requirements for egress stairs. These opportunities may simplify the design of smaller multi-unit residential buildings and create options for quicker and more affordable construction, while maintaining or enhancing safety.“


October 24, 2023
Conrad Speckert writes A foreign perspective on second staircase regulations for Inside Housing magazine to compare proposed changes in the United Kingdon with other jurisdictions.


October 7, 2023
The California State Legislature passes Bill AB-835 (State Fire Marshal: building standards: single-exit, single stairway apartment houses: report) to “require the State Fire Marshal to research standards for single-exit, single stairway apartment houses, with more than 2 dwelling units, in buildings above 3 stories and provide a report to specified legislative committees and to the California Building Standards Commission by January 1, 2026.”


August 15, 2023
The National Housing Accord, led by the Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness (CAEH), Smart Prosperity Institute and the Real Property Association of Canada (REALPAC) publishes a list of 10 recommendations to encourage purpose-built rental housing in Canada.

Recommendation 6 is to “reform the National Building Code to drive innovation in the homebuilding sector” and specifically identifies modular housing, mass timber and single egress for multi-unit residential buildings up to 6 storeys.


August 14, 2023
Spacing Podcast interviews Conrad Speckert and Heather Breeze to discuss their recent article for Spacing magazine in Episode 72: From Leipzig with Love - starting at 16:53.


June 2023
Conrad Speckert and Heather Breeze co-author The Single Stair Solution for Spacing magazine’s thematic print edition ‘Fire!’ describing the proposed building code change and benefits for missing middle housing in Toronto.


May 19, 2023
John Lorinc writes Putting high-rises on a low-carbon diet for the Globe and Mail, featuring the single stair code change and other mid-rise housing innovations in Toronto.


May 4, 2023
Stephen Smith, founder of the New York City-based building code and construction policy not-for-profit Center for Building in North America, writes Why we can’t build family-sized apartments in North America including comparative unit layouts and floor plan illustrations by Michael Eliason.

“The merits of North American building and zoning codes can be debated, but the effect is clearly that apartments, in order to provide the same number of bedrooms and give everyone a window, must necessarily consume far more floor area than point access block designs possible in other countries. So if you’re looking for a family-sized apartment in the U.S. or Canada and finding that new buildings don’t have what you’re looking for, it’s not you, it’s not the architect, and it’s not even the developer – it’s the codes.”


April 27, 2023
Nik Luka and Conrad Speckert co-host a webinar for the CMHC Ballanced Supply of Housing Research Cluster featuring The Second Egress: Building a Code Change (start at 37m:30s).




April 10, 2023
The Washington State Legislature passes Bill SSB5491 (Allowing for residential buildings of a certain height to be served by a single exit under certain conditions) including an amendment which “requires the State Building Code Council to convene a technical advisory group to recommend changes to the International Building Code (IBC) that would allow a single exit stairway for multifamily residential structures up to six stories above grade plane.”


March 31, 2023
Chicago-based architecture critic and journalist Kate Wagner writes ‘Single-Stair Layouts Are Not Going to Fix the Housing Crisis‘...”They’re a good idea, but they’re not going to liberate us from capitalism.”


February 27, 2023
Toon Dreessen, architect and former president of the Ontario Association of Architects, writes Canada’s building codes and standards need to get with the times’ for the Globe and Mail.


February 17, 2023
Conrad Speckert writes ‘The Curse of the Double-Loaded Corridor’ for Urban Progress, a Toronto-based quarterly print magazine that explores issues related to urban growth and development.


January 19, 2023
The Second Egress is published in Cellar Architectural Journal, a student-run publication dedicated to space, design, and architecture-based research at McGill University.

January 6, 2023
Lloyd Alter features this code change proposal in the article ‘This Parisian Apartment Building Could Only Work With Single Stairs’.

December 26, 2022
Lloyd Alter writes about the possibilities of single stair reform and mass timber construction in the article ‘Australian Apartment Shows How Single Stairs Make Small Buildings Better’.

December 20, 2022
The Niskanen Center think tank publishes a commentary on housing policy titled ‘How to build more family-sized apartments’ recommending land use and building code reforms “to eliminate barriers to multi-bedroom apartment construction”.

December 15, 2022
The State of Montana Governor’s Housing Task Force submits ‘Recommendations and Strategies to Increase the Supply of Affordable, Attainable Workforce Housing’ including to “update state building code to allow for single-stair midrise (up to six stories) apartment buildings, also known as point access blocks, that meet appropriate fire safety requirements.”


October 5, 2022
The UCLA Lewis Center hosts Beyond Zoning: Building Circulation Reform and Infill Housing, a panelist discussion on “the impacts of North American egress requirements on housing costs, location, and design”.

September 2022
The City of Toronto Expanding Housing Options in Neighbourhoods (EHON) planning study releases findings of the Beaches-East York Missing Middle Pilot Project documenting the access/egress challenges with this scale of development, including single stair designs by Dubbeldam Architecture + Design.

August 23, 2022
The Vivre-en-ville Quebec housing advocacy organization publishes a report entitled POURTES OUVERTES: Pour une Sortie de Crise Durable en Habitation [OPEN DOORS: for a sustainable way out of the housing crisis] featuring this research on page 54.

August 8, 2022
The NFPA Journal publishes its quarterly overview of timely topics titled ‘In Compliance’ with a section commeting on single-exit design in multistory apartment buildings.

July 25, 2022
The Mercatus Center think tank at George Mason University publishes Housing Reform in the States: A Menu of Options for 2023, including single stair reform under Option 16: “Allow Skinny Apartment Buildings”.

April 18, 2022
Code Change Requests submitted to the Canadian Commission on Building and Fire Codes to allow for single egress in multi-unit residential buildings up to six storeys in Part 3, and up to three storeys in Part 9, of the National Building Code of Canada.

April 12, 2022
Conrad Speckert joins the Single Serves Podcast to speak about single stair buildings.


March 30, 2022
The Ontario Minster of Municipal Affairs and Housing announces legislation titled ‘More Homes for Everyone’ including a proposed change to the Ontario Building Code: “facilitate more infill and low rise multi-unit housing by exploring opportunities to allow for single means of egress in four to six storey residential buildings, while continuing to protect public health and safety.”

Alex Bozikovic writes in the Globe and Mail, “it will study changing the building code to allow single-staircase apartment buildings – which sounds boring, but would open up enormous possibilities for small and midsized buildings in our cities. Small infill is a crucial part of providing more housing, and more diverse cities.”

March 24, 2022
Blair Scorgie speaks about the code change during a panel discussion at the Urban Land Institute: ULI Toronto: Ontario Building Code Review & Carbon Reduction: Right direction?.

March 15, 2022
Michael Eliason gives an online lecture on single stair buildings for the Passive House Network: PHN Presents: Optimizing Form & Function: Meet Single Point Access Blocks, an old-new tool in sustainable place making.

February 8, 2022
Ontario Housing Affordability Task Force report to the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing published, including recommendation (3b) to “modernize the building code and other policies to remove any barriers to affordable construction and to ensure meaningful implementation (e.g., allow single-staircase construction for up to four storeys, allow single egress, etc.).”

February 7, 2022
Craig Ruttan (Housing Policy Advisor of the Toronto Board of Trade) recommends to “legalize single stair access for buildings up to six storeys” at the Urban Land Institue’sThe End of Exclusionary Zoning’ seminar.

January 28, 2022
A group of 45 architects, planners, developers and housing policy experts co-sign a letter to the Ontario Housing Affordability Task Force recommending a builiding code change to permit residential buildings of up to six storeys with a single exit stair.

December 28, 2021
Michael Eliason (Larch Lab) prepares a report entitled “Unlocking livable, resilient, decarbonized housing with Point Access Blocks” commissioned by the City of Vancouver.

December 23, 2021

Conrad Speckert and Michael Eliason interviewed for Slate Magazine, A surprising theory of what’s wrong with North American apartment buildings by Henry Grabar.

December 20, 2021
Michael Eliason documents this website in Seattle’s Lead on Single Stair Buildings in The Urbanist planning, urbanism and housing policy journal.

December 15, 2021

Conrad Speckert presents this website as the final graduate research project of the Master of Architecture (M.Arch) degree at McGill University.


October 6-7, 2021

Michael Eliason delivers the keynote presentation emphasizing single stair apartment buildings at the Vivre-en-ville conference on housing affordability in Montreal.

August 10, 2021
Seattle architect Michael Eliason writes The Case for More Single Stair Buildings.

May 2021
Michael Evamy Scholarship 2021 awarded to Conrad Speckert for “the study of how Canada’s egress code requirements might affect the affordability of the nation’s housing supply.”

January 4, 2021
Conrad Speckert writes The Second Egress: A Wicked Problem position paper for Professor Nik Luka at McGill University.

February 2019
The Ontario Association of Architects publishes a summary report entitled Housing Affordability in Growing Urban Areas including a recommendation for the building code to allow four storey residential buildings with a single stair.


May 2010
The City of Toronto publishes the 2010 Mid-Rise Performance Standards which was informed by the Avenues & Mid-Rise Buildings Study, a consultant report led by Brook McIlroy Planning + Urban Design. Their list of recommendation identified the following Ontario Building Code issue under Section 4.5.6:

“The City of Toronto Building Department has indicated that they are open to considering compliance alternatives that would reduce the cost burden on mid-rise buildings with respect to certain requirements of the Ontario Building Code. Many mid-rise buildings on the Avenues could be expected to be located in close proximity to a fire station, and should be provided with smoke and heat detectors that have a direct connection to a central fire alarm and to the fire department. Given these factors and the additional fire suppression mechanism of sprinklers, cost-saving measures such as allowing floors to be served by one exit stair only could be considered. Such a measure would free up more valuable space for residential and retail uses and improve the efficiency of the buildings. The savings would accrue even if some additional conditions are imposed, such as maximum distances between suite entry door and stairwell; requiring all units to have balconies or other places of refuge; and specifying a maximum building height based on the height that a ladder truck or other rescue vehicles could safely access.”

January 22, 2004
Toronto architect Eb Zeidler (1926-2022) is interviewed about the problem of requiring two means of egress for mid-rise apartment buildings in “Stairway to a better Toronto”.


1984
Fire Safety Design of Apartments, a report to the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) prepared by Blandford Gates and Paul Sandori, meticulously documents the differences between European and Canadian apartment building layouts and fire safety design.

[This CMHC document was discovered by the author of this website in June 2024 and has been added here to reflect a chronological timeline of events]

“More and more of the population of Canada will choose to live in apartments to be closer to the urban activities or in the suburbs for economic reasons. The objective of this research paper is to assess planning and design criteria for apartment buildings of moderate height (up to 8 storeys) to assure the optimization of the plans and building layouts.

Apartment living is a long-standing European tradition for exactly those reasons that are now influencing housing patterns in North America. There are, however, fundamental differences between the European and Canadian layouts which, in many respects, work in favour of the European apartment plans but these would not be acceptable under the fire safety provisions of the National Building Code of Canada. The research was undertaken to investigate the reason for, and the effectiveness of, the divergent approaches to fire safety and to recommend a course of action.

The European fire safety record is better than that of Canada and we recommend that serious consideration be given to changes to our regulations that will permit better apartment planning.”







This website, including all data and information incorporated herein, is being provided for information purposes only. For certainty, the author provides no representation or warranty regarding any use of or reliance upon this website, including no representation or warranty that any architectural designs comply with applicable laws including any applicable building code requirements or municipal by-laws. Any use of or reliance upon this website by any person for any purpose shall be at such person’s sole risk and the author shall have no liability or responsibility for any such use of or reliance upon this website by any person for any purpose. Prior to any use of or reliance upon this website by any person for any purpose, consultation with a professional architect duly licensed in the applicable jurisdiction is strongly recommended.