The Evolution of the Vancouver Special

Vancouver Special Streetscape 500 block E 27th

I spend a lot of time talking about Vancouver Specials.  This is partly out of interest, but also partly because I truly feel there's a lot to be learned about these homes.  Today, I want to talk about how the special changed over time. 

The first specials showed up in the early 1960's, as a result of a drive to reduce building costs, but get as much space as possible.  This was accomplished by creating a structure with a main floor and a basement - but while it was a basement in name, it was another 1500 feet of living space.  Since basements didn't technically count in the square footage, you could have up to 3000 square feet of living space in the home, on a lot which was zoned for around 1800 square feet of living space.  By using cheap materials, and as little of these materials as they could, builders created homes with tons of space, for an extremely low cost.  See an example here.  

Lakewood Dr 1123

Simple in design, and boxy in form.  The next step was to make it slightly more interesting from the front.  Builders opted to decrease the balcony to half size, and also add some dimension to the front of the home.  This also gave opportunity to play with the roof shape, and give the house a new look.  See an example here.  

21st ave e 230

The idea then came to turn the houses into duplexes.  While the internal structure remained much the same, each floor had it's own entrance, giving greater privacy.  This could simply be a change to the facade of the house, or a larger structural change! 

15th Ave E 1446 800 web
14th Ave E 1320

As the 80's went on, specials got larger and grander.  Eventually, in 1984, the building codes were changed, so that these houses were no longer as cheap or as easy to make, and they were basically banned.  A competition was held to find the "New Vancouver Special" ...but more on that another day!

(Some ideas of the evolution are drawn from a fantastic book - Vanishing Vancouver, by Michael Kluckner.  Available here.)

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