Laneway House


Peter Duckworth-Pilkington and Suzanne Cheng did what every young Toronto architecture grad wants to do: live on a back lane, that great swathe of real estate that just goes to waste because of literal NIMBY and political timidity. It comes up every couple of years and nothing ever changes, it is still almost impossible to get approvals for it. Sometimes buildings exist and get renovated, like Kohn Shnier's laneway house; Rarely do they get built from scratch.

Duckworth-Pilkington was also into green design before it was fashionable; he apprenticed at with Martin Liefhebber and worked on the healthy house.


First they had to fight the neighbours for approval; $14,000 in legals later they got it. He could have built it off-grid and off-pipe, but City rules don't permit it. Back lanes aren't serviced; $ 46,000 buys a sewer connection. Oops, it is too far from the fire hydrant: $ 5,000 for sprinklers.

Then the contractors don't listen, He tells Canadian Architect: "we specified galvanized electrical conduit throughout, and the contractor assured us this would be done. Then they were almost finished and they'd used PVC conduit in the wall cavities. 'What's wrong?' they asked us, 'you'll never see it.' But the point was to avoid PVC completely, something the contractor understood--but then he leaves for an afternoon and the guys on the site just do it the way they always do."

It is really well insulated. "We thought we would heat our house with passive solar and wood stove back-up," says Duckworth-Pilkington. "It's proven technology, and our heat load analysis showed it would work, but the building code doesn't allow it. The building department considers solar unreliable--although if the sun goes out we've got a lot more to worry about than being cold!" The required "automatic heating system" added $15,000. ::Canadian Architect


This was all a few years ago and things have loosened up a bit, but not much. One still cannot build in lanes, one still can't use composting toilets in the city, and one still has to fight with NIMBY neighbours, but people keep trying and it still makes a great story. Vancouver designer and film-maker Casey Kwan made a great 20 minute movie of the Laneway project:

"Through a combination of interview footage, animation and photography, laneway documents the house of these two young designers, while examining their relationship with design and ultimately, one another." Watch it at ::Laneway

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