Author’s Note

I would like to share this self-portrait, which is to say that the motivations for this study are quite personal. I grew up in a three-storey, single staircase 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 home is a reminder that stairs can do more than just access and egress. There is atmosphere to them - the tactile sensation of a winding guardrail, the slip-resistance of the treads, the wash of light from above or the breeze from an operable window. Especially in a small apartment building, a skylight 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 designs 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 by-laws in conflict with provincial growth plans and federal immigration policy. Since moving to Canada I’ve witnessed the North American preference for houses and homeownership, but also experienced perversions of the opposite in the downtowns of Toronto and Vancouver. Studying in Montreal (a city of winding stairs and triplexes) reveals an alternative to the suburban predicament across Canada. Today there is a housing crisis, a supply problem worsened by the missing middle of options - the range of housing types suited for people that fall between the polarized real estate market of pre-sale condos for investors and detached houses for traditional families. The code requirement for a second exit stair in buildings over two storeys (regardless of the number of dwelling units, travel distances and fire alarms, sprinklers and smoke control measures) makes it unnecessarily difficult to build smaller multi-unit residential buildings.

Of the 30+ international jurisdictions reviewed for the maximum building height with a single exit stair, Canada is the second-most restrictive country. A rule that made a lot of sense when it was established in 1941 has not been revisited since, and it’s time to change that.

Thank you.