Can Compact Laneway Houses Like This One in Canada Transform Inner-City Neighborhoods?

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By Jennifer Baum Lagdameo
Billed as an "urban cabin," the laneway housing concept is a smart, affordable way to add density and preserve historic sites.

The Withrow Laneway House is tucked behind a historic home in the neighborhood of Parkdale in Calgary, Canada. Using the laneway, or alley, as its front street, the tiny home contributes to the urban fabric of the neighborhood, reimagining the lane as a pedestrian space. 

Drone footage of the site reveals the laneway house, hidden behind the existing home.

Drone footage of the site reveals the laneway house, hidden behind the existing home.

Conceived of by the Calgary-based firm Studio North, the scope of the project included the renovation of a municipally-designated historic house, the construction of the innovative 850-square-foot laneway house, and the landscaping of the spaces that connect the two buildings. 

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The project was a prime opportunity to save one of Calgary’s heritage houses as well as build an affordable, compact living space—hopefully further popularizing the concept.

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"We call it laneway housing because our intention is to activate alleys to become pedestrian thoroughfares, and to create pocket communities within already existing inner-city communities," says Studio North co-owner Mark Erikson. "This is why we always have the entries to the laneway houses facing the alley, usually with some sort of outdoor courtyard or amenity space also facing the alley." He explains that while this is common in Vancouver, the practice is still rare in Calgary due to difficulties with permitting.

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Taking into consideration the compact size, the design of the home includes efficient living solutions such as a built-in dining room table that folds out to accommodate large gatherings, storage space integrated into the framing of walls, and a sleeping loft in the vaulted ceiling space. 

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The construction used repurposed building materials such as windows rescued from a flood, a second-hand fire pole, and salvaged glass as clerestory windows. 

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The landing offers another opportunity to bring natural light into the tiny home. 

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Laneway housing allows homeowners to add versatility and value to their property—and provides housing solutions for family members at various points of their life. The concept can be adapted to become a starter home, a way for grandparents to downsize and live closer to grandchildren, a launchpad for grown children returning from college, a rental unit to subsidize a mortgage, or even office space for a home-based business. 

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According to Studio North, a laneway house typically costs between CAD $250,000-$300,000 for construction, plus fees. This is less than the cost of building a primary residence because the land is already paid for, and usually less than buying a condo of the same size—without the condo fees.  

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Project Credits: 

Project Name: Withrow Laneway House, 2017 

Architect of Record: Studio North

Builder/General Contractor: Studio North

Structural Engineer: RECAD

Lighting Design / Interior Design / Cabinetry Design:  Studio North