In Praise of Point Access Blocks - Better Architecture for Better Development

What if we could make our developments more livable, climate adaptive, family-friendly, community-oriented, more affordable, like other countries?

Everywhere I go it seems architecture and urbanist spaces are talking about Point Access Blocks. Last week, Architecture Newspaper featured this article by Seattle Architect and green urban leader Michael Eliason (LarchLab) which highlighted how we were being held back compared to Europe and other jurisdictions:

https://www.archpaper.com/2023/03/why-does-american-multifamily-architecture-look-so-banal-heres-one-reason/

More specifically, it is the peculiar anomaly that requires multifamily buildings to include a second staircase with a connecting corridor for buildings with more than 3 stories. Outside of the U.S. and Canada, this requirement is largely non-existent. It is this regulation that causes our multifamily housing to vary dramatically from the rest of the world. It results in significantly larger buildings with units that are less livable, less climate adaptive, less family friendly, less community-oriented—and potentially much more expensive—than most other countries.

This is not a new topic and has garnered discussion in other jurisdictions, but with emerging conversations about municipal Zoning and Federal building code changes on the horizon in Canada/Alberta, it makes sense to continue the conversation in Edmonton. I am working with a few partners to bring Michael up to Edmonton for a special talk about Point Access Blocks, Green Eco-Districts, Co-housing and many other fascinating topics this June (with potentially a second event in Calgary). Reach out if you would like to engage or support this event...

 

Point Access Blocks, compact single stair buildings with units centered around the stairway, are one of the most basic building forms found in post-industrial cities. They provide compact, low-carbon, and livable multifamily housing.

Here are a few other resources:

Larch Lab: Point Access Blocks Report for the City of Vancouver: https://www.larchlab.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/01/Eliason_CoV-Point-Access-Blocks-report_v1.2.pdf

Second Egress: https://secondegress.ca/ - A fantastic compilation of the state of design around the world by Conrad Speckert.

Michael's Podcast: The Livable Low-Carbon City Podcast, hosted by Michael Eliason. A podcast that explores the stories, places, and people working to make our buildings and cities more sustainable, enjoyable, and humane – in the face of a changing world. Covering themes central to our work, and conversations on climate adaptive and livable cities – with a low-carbon footprint.

And of course, a reminder that, while they are a good design idea, and we should enable them, they are not going to liberate us from the housing crisis: https://www.thenation.com/article/society/single-stair-building-codes-housing/

Single-stair is not going to fix the housing crisis, because the housing crisis stems from an economic system in which housing is a commodity and a money-making scheme instead of a human right to shelter. I find that in my columns, I’m always delineating what is a design problem and what is a political problem. Single-stair construction solves a design problem; it makes for more lively apartment building layouts and more interesting and flexible buildings. Making sure those buildings are and remain safe, equitable, comfortable, and stable is a political struggle waged against the landlord and developer class on behalf of the commons. If you think single-stair is going to liberate housing design, imagine what severing the connection between shelter and profit could do.

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