No life laneway: why? Laneway life: why not?

Hannah Teicher

Hannah Teicher is a designer and urban strategist in Vancouver, BC and has been with Shape Architecture since 2008. (more…)

One interpretation of neighbourhood character. Wansey Street Housing, London. DRMM Architect


—The Vancouver Zoning By-law is prefaced by a definitions section that helpfully illuminates such terms as ‘family’ and ‘adult magazine.’ However, one word is conspicuously absent: character.  (more…)

Left: City of Vancouver zoning map illustrating use: varieties of residential + commercial  Right: Zoning map altered to reflect intensity of ‘character’ regulations

Character Study – 11th and Prince Edward

—Practicing architecture, character seemed to come up frequently, both in analyzing the relevant zoning bylaw for any particular project, and in conversations with development planners. Increasingly, this term seemed influential in the planning approval process, and I had a hunch that it was officially undefined. The hunch was soon gratifyingly realized through a quick search of the definitions section of the zoning bylaw (gratifying because this meant there were depths to plumb). (more…)

Character Assassination

Character Assassination

—While character isn’t directly defined, its meaning becomes fairly clear through contextual interpretation of zoning district schedules and design guidelines. Several terms recur in relation to character: preserve, maintain, retention, and compatibility. Rather than chasing these terms down a linguistic rabbit hole, they can be used to derive meaning, and meaningful meaning at that. They are used because character crops up whenever there is a desire to maintain things as they are, suppressing evolution.

This desire is rooted in strong values – character is value-laden – but what precisely are these values and why do they hold such sway? Why is the presumption towards “all new building and additions being compatible with the historical character of the area (RT-4 and RT-5)?” Or “preserving the character and general amenity of the area and its immediate surroundings (C-3A)?” The “new” is dead in the water with a presumption of guilt for just being itself. (Character assassination, one might say.) (more…)

top— RS-1 Character: The intent of this Schedule is generally to maintain the single-family residential character of the RS-1 District  bottom— C-3A Character: The intent of this Schedule is to provide for a wide range of goods and services, to maintain commercial activities, specialized services and some light manufacturing enterprises while preserving the character and general amenity of the area and its immediate surroundings

Character Flaw

—The definitions section appended to the Vancouver zoning bylaw helpfully illuminates terms such as “family” and “adult magazine,” but fails to define the pervasive term “character,” a term which has an outsize presence in the district schedules and design guidelines, and countless discussions between architects and planners. The fact that there is no explicit definition is on the one hand convenient, and on the other, highly problematic. The lack of definition potentially confers flexibility, though in practice that flexibility tends toward a “consensually” conservative interpretation, foregrounding planners’ (those writing, interpreting, and enacting the code) unquestioned priorities of consistency, legibility, compatibility, and retention. (more…)