Designers of the Year Photo Credit: Carlo Ricci

Arthur Erickson Memorial Award 2013: Lanefab

A Vancouver-based design team creates laneway homes that demonstrate bigger isn't always better.

The Lanefab legend in a nutshell: Young designer and skilled carpenter sideswiped by recession spot opportunity when City of Vancouver legalizes laneway housing in a bid to deal with high housing costs. Pair design and build the city’s first laneway home, which is subsequently traipsed through by more than 1,000 curious onlookers at an open house. Fame, acclaim and lots of alley-side dwellings result.

And the legend is true, as far as it goes. But it’s much less than the whole story behind this year’s recipients of the Arthur Erickson Memorial Award for an emerging designer, as a walkabout in the vicinity of Vancouver’s Douglas Park neighbourhood illustrates. There, on two adjacent blocks, sit four projects by (designer) Bryn Davidson and (carpenter) Mat Turner. Two are indeed laneway houses, but the other two are equally smart-looking but definitely full-sized homes, one of which does not even sport a laneway addendum.

So let’s update that legend. In fact, Lanefab’s scope is broad enough that it could have called itself just plain Housefab. Among the roughly 30 projects Lanefab has completed, several sport solar panels and are net zero in terms of energy use, while plans are afoot for homes that will in fact be net positive—contributing energy rather than using it. Where once there sat two-car garages, people now live in great comfort and at virtually no cost to the environment. Meanwhile, how many design/build firms really do design the house, then build it, right down to the last screw? As Bruce Haden points out, Lanefab’s pioneering work extends well beyond their early mastery of the laneway form. “This ambition is unusual for a young organization and exhibits a desire to take on a higher level of risk and responsibility.” wl

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