Mar 16, 2016
BY: and
THEME: Point of View

What Makes a Home Livable?

Vancouver is in the midst of a transition. Through unprecedented residential development, the landscape of our city is changing. Our homes are changing, our neighbourhoods are changing, and the way we live is changing. As our city grows and densifies, the single-family home is being replaced with diverse and smaller housing types, and the multi-family residence is becoming the new normal.

Similar to other cities in the world, Vancouverites are shifting their perspective of home. As more of us live in smaller and smaller spaces, it begs the question ’what makes a home livable?’.

With this question in mind, three leaders in our Vancouver office share their thoughts on our changing homes and shifting urban lifestyles.

What makes a home livable to you?

Ryan Bragg:  For me, one of the most important things in a home is actually having access to some usable exterior space. For years the exterior space of multi-family homes have been too small and unlivable, with balconies designed for only enough space for a BBQ or a bike. Exterior space doesn’t have to be huge but it needs to be big enough that you can have people seated around a table. A place where you can enjoy a meal, you can enjoy a dinner party, you can do something outside.

Kim Barnsley:  It’s important to me to have a clean space with white walls. And as long as you have a comfy bed and cool designer sofa and a really great piece of art to look at, I think that’s the most livable home for me.

Joyce Drohan:  I think flexibility is probably the most important element when it comes to your home. You want a place where you can have a big dinner party, but the next day you want a really intimate place to read and be on your own with a cup of coffee. It’s having that range so you can do really dynamic things or really quiet things and still feel comfortable. And I think as living spaces are becoming smaller and more constrained, that’s really important to remember when you’re designing a unit for somebody.

Why is it important to ask this question at this time?

Kim:  The way we live is changing so much. There’s a huge gap between affordability and luxury, urban versus suburban living, and shift in demographics between millennials and boomers. As designers, I think in order to be ready for this change, we need to understand what makes homes livable to all groups.

What do you imagine our urban homes will be like in 20 years?

Joyce:  As homes decrease in size, flexibility will become more important in residential design. There’s a growing area of study on flexible housing where the size of your home can be altered – for example, lock-off suites that can be absorbed as families get larger and reinstated as the family ages and leaves home. Flexibility can also be offered in the design and location of common spaces in a building, especially to encourage regular interaction amongst residents.  Lastly, flexibility is also about what is available to you immediately outside the building. People are becoming more interested in urban health, exercise and access to the natural environment – whether it’s inside your building or outside in your neighbourhood, that will be part of the balance of smaller living spaces.

Describe what is needed to make the transition from a detached home to a multi-family residence.

Ryan:  Having done it recently, I think one of the biggest things you have to do is reduce about half of what you own, which is actually a very cathartic experience. My wife and I realized we had more than we ever needed, and in fact we had things that were redundant and the same things as most of our neighbours. We are now more creative with our space, we either share space within the condominium or within the building itself. We live a simpler and more enjoyable life because we don’t have as many material things.

How can we as designers help with this transition?

Joyce:  I think adjusting to a multi-family unit after living in a detached home is challenging for a lot of people because you’re typically going from a more flexible arrangement to what’s often much more rigid. And I think that’s where we as Architects can be really creative by helping people maintain some of that flexibility. We’re starting to see a lot of really inventive units these days with sliding walls, adding to the folding bed, which has been around for a long time. It doesn’t have to be a mechanical solution, but I think we as Architects need to think much more carefully and creatively about how spaces can be adapted for very different activities.

What is the purpose of the initiative?

Joyce:  I think the website is a both a learning and an exploratory tool to start to better understand the issues people are facing as they deal with density and smaller units and evolving lifestyles. There’s a whole new generation of people that are looking for homes these days and they’re world-wise, they’re travelled, they’re pretty dynamic in their lifestyles and they’re looking for places that are fun and fresh that still allow them to have a dignified life. I think the website will start to help us understand as we explore different scenarios and directions, and will help us think differently when we design units for people.

We invite you to join the conversation and share your thoughts on livability at

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