Author’s Note

I would like to end with this self-portrait, which is to say that this is quite a personal project. I grew up in a three-storey, single stair apartment building where we knew our neighbours well, the stair landings were generous and naturally-lit, and everyone got pretty crazy with their Christmas decorations. My childhood apartment building reminds me that stairs should be about more than just circulation and fire safety, and that there is atmosphere to them too - the tactile sensation of a winding guardrail, the slip-resistance of the treads, the wash of light from a skylight or the breeze from an operable window. Especially in an apartment building stairwell, a small lightwell goes a long way to maintaining a connection between floors and therefore, between neighbours.

I think it is ridiculous that the building code in Canada deems buildings like this to be unsafe. It is also saddening to see the hostility with which small apartment buildings have been actively discouraged in this country, especially through municipal zoning policies directly at odds with provincial growth and federal immigration targets. Since moving to Canada I’ve witnessed the North American preference for detached houses and private backyards, but also experienced perversions of the opposite in the downtowns of Toronto and Vancouver. Studying in Montreal, a city of winding stairs and triplexes, I see an alternative to the suburban predicament across Canada. Today there is a housing crisis, a supply problem worsened by the missing middle of housing options - the range of housing types suited for the people that fall between the polarized real estate market of condos for urban professionals and detached houses for nuclear families. The code requirement for a second egress in any building above two storeys, regardless of the number of dwelling units, travel distance or additional fire safety measures like sprinklering, makes it all the more challenging to build this missing middle.

Of the thirty international jurisdictions reviewed for their maximum allowable building height with a single exit stair, Canada is the most restrictive country. A rule that made a lot of sense when it was established in 1941 remains unquestioned in each revision to the building code since. It’s time to change that.

Thank you.