CHALLENGING CONSTRAINTS TO AFFORDABLE HOUSING

Missing Middle and Mixing Middle housing forms, the subjects of Urbanarium’s previous ideas competitions, are becoming mainstream policies. Decoding Density again explores missing middle housing, this time at the high end of that density range. 

The six-storey wood frame apartment building is becoming a standard for municipalities in the Metro Vancouver region for increasing density. And yet, designers exploring these apartment forms find that code and other regulations, combined with financial factors, generate boxes that are not affordable, do not address climate change, and struggle to offer outdoor space, light, and cultural, communal and family-orientated features.

An invitation was sent out to everyone, everywhere, to imagine new possibilities for six-storey plus apartment forms by addressing two of the most existential problems of today: climate change and housing affordability. A central aspect of the brief was to challenge the constraints of code and other regulations to do so. 

85 submissions from 9 countries competed. $44,000 in prize money was awarded to winners from Canada, New Zealand, South Korea and the US. 

ALL SUBMISSIONS

WINNERS PRESS RELEASE

towerhouse
1st Place (tied) + Planners Prize Winner: $20,000 prize
Towerhouse by Studio Oh Song | New York, United States
Team members: Ericka Song, Justin Oh

DOWNLOAD SUBMISSION

switch
1st Place (tied): $10,000 prize
Shared Density by Switch | Vancouver, Canada
Team members: Jonas Thalamas, Charlie Petit, Kareem Negm, Chris Quigley

DOWNLOAD SUBMISSION

PacLab_2
3rd Place: $4,000 prize
Cul-de-sac Nouveau by PAC Lab | Auckland, New Zealand
Team members: Nadthachai Kongkhajornkidsuk, Xian Chris Li, Elitsa Vutova, Liam
Lautze

DOWNLOAD SUBMISSION

#61BF84
WINNERS PRESS RELEASE

HONOURABLE MENTIONS: $2,000 PRIZE EACH

NIBMY_TO_NIMBY
From NIMBY to NIMBY by Bobo | Vancouver, Canada
Team members: Daichi Yamashita

DOWNLOAD SUBMISSION

core
Sharing is the Core Thing! by Catlab | Seoul, South Korea
Team members: Sang Hoon Youm, Sumin Hong, Seungho Jeong, Mina Kim, Dongmin
Lee

DOWNLOAD SUBMISSION

cofinity_2
Co-Finity Village by Co-Finity | Burnaby, Canada
Team members: Alvin Wang, Melanie Vanco, Cyrus Wu

DOWNLOAD SUBMISSION

hood
Micro-hood by Micro-hood | Vancouver, Canada
Team members: Minsu Kim, Ronak Shah, Austin Mills, Kathleen Fu, Chris Hill, Antoine
Morris, Emily Rennalls, Kevin Wu

DOWNLOAD SUBMISSION

Lots_of_Bundles_3
Lots! of Bundles by Rebuild Collective | Cincinnati, United States
Team members: Peter Yi, Peter Loayza, Amanda Skyler, Leah Roodhouse

DOWNLOAD SUBMISSION

#FF6F48
HONOURABLE MENTIONS: $2,000 PRIZE EACH

SPECIAL MENTIONS

BLOC
Building Livable Organic Communities by BLOC | Vancouver, Canada
Team members; Brady Dunlop, Mojdeh Kamali, Simon Caulfield Sriklad, Kendra Scanlon, Paul van Ellenberg, Maryam Ahmadi, Matt Trepanier, Gerrit Atkinson, Paul Giles

DOWNLOAD SUBMISSION

Community_Community
Anti-community community by Fob Lab | Vancouver, Canada
Clyde Montgomery, Bianca Del Rio Kodato Melo, Eden Zinchik

DOWNLOAD SUBMISSION

Oxbow
Round House by Oxbow Architecture | Saskatoon, Canada
Andrea Clayton, Brad Pickard, Jim Siemens, Megan Florizone, Meghan Taylor, Sam Lock

DOWNLOAD SUBMISSION

#61BF84
SPECIAL MENTIONS

Schedule

Early Bird Registration Opens *Monday, December 11, 2023
Site Allocation**Monday, December 18, 2023
Deadline for Questions Round 1Tuesday, December 19, 2023
Answers Posted Round 1Friday, December 22, 2023
Early Bird Registration DeadlineFriday, December 29, 2023
Deadline for Questions Round 2Friday, January 12, 2024
Answers Posted Round 2Tuesday, January 16, 2024
Registration DeadlineFriday, January 19, 2024
Deadline for Questions Round 3Friday, January 26, 2024
Answers Posted Round 3Tuesday, January 30, 2024
Deadline for Questions Round 4Tuesday, February 13, 2024
Answers Posted Round 4Friday, February 16, 2024
Submission DeadlineWednesday, April 3, 2024 at 11:59pm PST
Jury DeliberationSaturday, April 13,  2024
Awards PresentationTuesday, April 16,  2024
Party! Publication & Solutions VideoMonday, June 3, 2024

*Early bird registration will be open with a discounted fee of $95 CAD. Standard registration fee is $140 per team, with a student rate of $40 per team (all members must be students). Registrants before Friday, December 29 at 11:59pm PST will receive their preferred site selection. 

**The first wave of site packages will be distributed on Monday, December 18, with subsequent packages being distributed on an ongoing basis. 

Prize Money

Overall Prize Awards

     First Prize $12,000 CAD

     Second Prize $8,000 CAD

     Third Prize $4,000 CAD

     5 Honourable Mentions $2,000 CAD ea.

 

Planners Prize Award

     Planners Prize $10,000

Sign Up For Updates

Competitor Questions Round 1

I am looking for a team to join - where do I start? 

 We have created a Discord server for competition entrants to connect and discuss Decoding Density during the competition. This will be a great place to meet others interested in the competition! You can join the Discord here

Is there a maximum number of team members for Decoding Density? 

No, we do not limit the number of members you can have on a team. You can add the additional members' names into the team name fields separated by commas.

Can more team members be added to a pre-existing registrant after registration?

Yes, you can email us at competition@urbanarium.org with your team name or entrance number to let us know of any team members you would like to add. Team members must be added before the final submission. 

Is it important to focus on the “plus” aspect and design for a building with more than six stories?

No. The “plus” aspect was included as a way to provide greater flexibility for designers who may want to explore additional height as a way to meet their design objectives, however, additional height is not a requirement for the building design.

As the sites are imaginary/not tied to specific municipalities, what codes are we challenging? 

Although the sites are imaginary, for the purposes of the competition applicants should refer to the BC Building Code when making recommendations for building code changes. 

Competitor Questions Round 2

Can I print a poster for my office?

Yes! You can download and print the Decoding Density by following the link below. 

Link to Poster

I am wondering about the "3-4 lot groupings" stipulation. Does it mean 3-4 lots? Or any number of lots within the defined site as long as they amount to 3-4 groups? 

The "3-4 lot groupings" refers to a group of 3-4 lots situated within the site area highlighted in red in the images provided. 

It is noted that "participants may select groupings of 3 to 4 lots". Is it a requirement to consider groupings of 3 to 4 lots or is this referring to a maximum?

Depending on which site you were assigned, you may use one parcel or a grouping of 3-4 lots/parcels. (Only Site D allows for a single parcel, which is required to have a 50’ frontage. All other sites require a grouping of 3-4 lots/parcels.) 

How should registrants address constraints of code and other regulations, land economics/financial feasibility, and relationship to the site's surrounding context if the sites are entirely imagined? Should registrants approach design with the Metro Vancouver context in mind?

Registrants should address questions around site context (physical, regulatory, etc.) by assuming a Metro Vancouver context. Teams may declare a Metro Vancouver municipality to work from, and identify where they are challenging codes or regulations. The sites are not specific to conform to AIBC guidance around design competitions. 

How will the jury review proposed building(s) that are greater than 6 storeys if these are to be compared to the capital costs of basic six-storey wood frame building of the same density when a denser building should achieve greater cost efficiency?

As the Jury Criteria suggest, the jury will be interested in both cost efficiency and metrics of livability. While a tower could achieve greater cost efficiency overall, there are zoning constraints that prevent this form from being used everywhere. The competition aims to interrogate forms between high-density towers and what’s currently allowed in low-density residential zones. Jurors will be looking for innovation in that range. 

Do contestants need to assume an indoor garbage/recycling solution that is FRR separated from the rest of the building? Or will design proposals be able to justify the rationale of whatever their multi-resident garbage/recycling operations solution against their assumed demographic target market?

The competition does not specify on this point. Design proposals should justify any proposed changes they make to codes or regulations. If the regulatory context is unclear with a generic site, registrants can select a relevant lower mainland municipality’s regulations as the baseline for their proposal. 

Can contestants propose new standard vehicle space ratios and dimensions for dwelling units, visitor parking, and/or loading space that is at least followed by one Canadian municipality’s Zoning By-laws?

The competition allows creative approaches, which will be judged as described in the brief. Registrants can select a relevant lower mainland municipality’s regulations as the baseline for their proposal, or can choose to eliminate parking requirements as a proposed policy change that is integral to their proposal in achieving affordability and livability. 

Since a building built as a condominium to be sold to individual dwelling unit buyers is a different quality of construction and design choices as a rental building to be operated by a business or corporation, is the competition focused on a pro forma for condo sales or purpose-built rental apartment building(s)? If either form is acceptable, how will the jury weigh a more expensive purpose-built rental apartment building versus a cheaper build-and-run-away-with-the-profits-in-sales condo building?

Lower mainland municipalities are currently very interested in purpose-built rental housing, and the competition intends to spur new ideas in this area, though not necessarily at the exclusion of condominiums. For the competition, the intent is to isolate design and construction from other factors and thus eliminate, as much as reasonable, any distinction. 

For the purposes of the competition and its aim to challenge assumptions and norms (assuming without compromising life safety and fire protection measures of residents or neighbouring property lots such as Limiting Distances), can contestants assume that there is no municipal Official Plan to contend with or are we proposing solution that the City of Vancouver could possibly revise their recently 2022-approved "Vancouver Plan"?

The competition is not specific to the City of Vancouver or its policies, so entrants are free to choose the policies and codes they think should be challenged. Teams may declare a Metro Vancouver municipality to work from, and then its official plan, or the Vancouver Plan in that case, could be referenced. 

Will the cost of construction include the carbon costs of demolition or the high-carbon costs of some typical materials? For example, demolition is often cheaper up-front but these savings do not include the costs externalized to the environment. It's important to work within existing market frameworks--however, these same structures also often guide us towards unsustainable approaches. 

The competition does not have a built-in mechanism to account for carbon costs. But the jury will have discretion to take such information into their deliberations if provided by any entrants, and the Jury Criteria encourages consideration of climate change adaptation/mitigation. 

For Site D, the brief states “Participants may either select 1 parcel with a minimum 50’ frontage or a group of 3 to 4 lots that result in roughly 100-200’ street frontage.” Is a parcel the same as a lot, meaning we can develop a design for just one specific lot that is around 50’ x 120’?

A parcel is the same as a lot. Sites A, B, and C require using a grouping of 3-4 lots/parcels. Site D allows the use of one lot/parcel with a minimum 50’ frontage, or a grouping of 3-4 lots/parcels. 

How detailed of a breakdown does the required pro forma need to be (land costs, material costs, labor costs, etc)? 

The baseline package that will be provided in the coming weeks will address this question. Stay tuned! 

Do I need to follow any municipality zoning bylaw in my proposal, or can I change everything as long as the concept improves affordability and sustainability. 

Registrants can select a relevant lower mainland municipality’s regulations as the baseline for their proposal. The proposed changes to codes or regulations should be identified for the jury. There is no limit to the number of changes a proposal can suggest. 

Is the content expected to be generic and not specific to our Site's location? Can we provide information specific to the Site?

The sites are generic to accommodate AIBC guidance. Entrants are free to suggest specifics but this is not required. 

Does the structure have to be wood frame? Can I use steel frame?

There are no requirements for what building materials you choose to use.   

Are submissions allowed to use the entire area denoted in red?

No. Within the area denoted in red you may select a smaller site. Depending on which site you were assigned, you may use one parcel or a grouping of 3-4 lots/parcels. (Only Site D allows for a single parcel, which is required to have a 50’ frontage. All other sites require a grouping of 3-4 lots/parcels.) 

How much off street parking do we need to provide? 

The competition does not specify. Registrants can select a relevant lower mainland municipality’s parking regulations as the baseline for their proposal. 

Are there tax incentives we can use in pro-forma?

The competition does not specify any tax incentives. Teams may reference a tax incentive if it seems applicable and include it in the pro forma discussion. 

How in-depth should the project be? Is a holistic approach enough, or should it go into detailed unit plan layouts?

The Jury Criteria and Submission Requirements are good guides to use here. Entrants are free to determine the right amount of detail in their proposals. Previous Urbanarium competition publications are available on our website as well, and might be helpful as references.

For Site A, existing and planned commercial services are mentioned in the notes. May we know what specific commercial services these are and where they are on the map?

No, except to say there is a grocery store, liquor store, 2 convenience/corner stores, and a gas station within 500 meters of the centre of the site. 

For Site A, are there bike lanes in this neighbourhood? 

Yes. There are cycle routes running east-west on the main roads near the site. 

Can local zoning bylaws also be challenged?

Yes! Because the sites are generic, the competition allows registrants to apply bylaws to their site as best fits their proposal. Registrants can select a relevant lower mainland municipality’s regulations as the baseline for their proposal. 

Typically, bylaw restrictions such as required car and bicycle parking, setbacks, etc., have a significant impact on projects. Are none of these applicable to the proposed project?

Yes these are relevant! Because the sites are generic, the competition allows registrants to apply bylaws to their site as best fits their proposal. Registrants can select a relevant lower mainland municipality’s regulations as the baseline for their proposal. 

Since the top three determinants for real estate value are Location, Location, Location, will the imagined sites specify the general or average demographic and/or household income of the target market in each site/neighbourhood? 

The baseline package that will be provided in the coming weeks will address this question. The intent is to create comparable conditions so that the comparisons will be based mostly on construction costs. Any income-generating additions beyond residential uses can be included in a proposal. 

How will the jury evaluate the higher costs of providing energy-efficient design in building envelope (eg. higher R-value, less Air Leakage, high performance windows, etc.) if a contestant’s proposal uses current best practices or industry trends/directions that exceeds the 6-storey wood frame baseline or other contestants’ proposals in the efforts to tackle climate change via more efficient building design?

The competing forces of higher performance and increased affordability is the hinge point of this competition, and the jury will be looking for entries that present an innovative and balanced approach to this question. In general, the jury will be evaluating costs in a somewhat rudimentary way, as the competition is not expecting registrants to do highly detailed cost estimating. The detailed base case information that will be shared in the coming weeks will provide further context. 

Will contestants be required to follow barrier-free accessibility requirements of the NBC or similar provincial building code of Canada or an example municipality's Accessibility Standards document since barrier-free accessibility has a significant impact on real estate space efficiency when compared to a building that has little to no barrier-free accessibility accommodations or provisions?

The competition does not require a specific approach to accessibility, though inclusivity is one factor judges will consider. Proposing alternative approaches based on codes elsewhere is encouraged. If it is helpful, registrants can select a relevant lower mainland municipality’s regulations as the baseline for their proposal and respond to or challenge barrier-free accessibility accommodations.

How will each contestant’s pro forma be evaluated for accuracy in terms of either construction costs or market values of leasable dwelling units and quality, especially since cost estimators’ accuracy can vary greatly in cost predictability?

To address this, we will send “base case” information to all registrants in the coming weeks. It will include a reference for participants as well as the jury with some basic cost benchmarks. 

Competitor Questions Round 3

If we must choose 3-4 lots for Site A, would you be able to clarify the meaning of the following, taken from the Site A document: “Participants may select groupings of 3 to 4 lots from within the site area highlighted in red, but they must be contextualized within an overall plan for the block.”?

The design proposed for the 3-4 lots you select within Site A should be shown at some point within the overall block so the jurors can understand how you see your proposal integrating with the surrounding context.

Can we assume that no parking is viable?

Yes. Entries are welcome to propose this. The jurors will consider entries that do not include parking to intend this as a change to codes/regulations. Registrants can also/instead select a relevant lower mainland municipality’s parking regulations as the baseline for their proposal.  

What is the entire neighbourhood vision for the future? 

This is not specified in the competition materials. Registrants can assume a Metro Vancouver context or postulate one that supports their initiatives. 

What will be the overall context in the future? Do the Nimbys just approve this development in the name of affordable housing?

If only we had a crystal ball! The competition does not specify what the future will hold. 

Could we assume micro-electric mobility  (e.g. electric scooters and bikes etc.) is the way people will move around?

Yes. Entries are welcome to propose this. The jurors will consider entries that rely on microelectric mobility (and not parking) to intend this as a change to codes/regulations. Registrants can also/instead select a relevant lower mainland municipality’s parking regulations as the baseline for their proposal. 

How does one deal with shadowing neighbours in 2-storey buildings? Do we just ignore it?

The judging criteria is interested in how the entries address their context, but the competition also recognizes that densification will create shadows. 

Can we take more lots than 3 or 4 in site A?  or are we strictly limited to design on 4 lots only? 

Depending on which site you were assigned, you must use one parcel or a grouping of 3-4 lots/parcels. (Only Site D allows for a single parcel, which is required to have a 50’ frontage. All other sites require a grouping of 3-4 lots/parcels.) 

Environmental health from natural light, sunshine and air perspective is important for the entire community or is it not?

The competition and judging criteria values these features and balances them against the need to densify, create more affordable housing, and address climate change. 

What will life be like in a 3.0 FAR environment in the new buildings? Children need open space in which to play.

Entries are encouraged to reimagine livability at higher densities and places for play.

Can we propose a lower density than 3.0 FAR? 

Yes. A justification should be included.

Can we propose incremental growth in Site A?

Yes. A justification should be included.

Is one of the purposes of the competition to design a solution that is replicable in non-site specific scenarios? Or is it encouraged to set assumptions and be site specific?

While the competition is seeking ideas that can be used on multiple sites, teams are encouraged to imagine site-specific design rationales. 

Will we be informed on what the video requirements are?

There are no more specific requirements than those in the competition brief. 

Is underground parking a requirement? 

The competition does not specify requirements for parking. 

Can we expect funding from municipalities or other levels of government during the economic feasibility study? 

Yes. A justification for assuming specific funding sources should be included.

For Site C, are the magenta roads in layer RightofWays_X considered Dedicated roads? If it's the case will it be considered 3 meters per lot? Right now, only one of the lots has a dedicated road.

Municipally owned rights of way that are not developed may be used in any way that supports the competition ideas and additional dedications may be postulated.

Competitor Questions Round 4

I was given site C and I was wondering what the prevailing architectural style(s) of the neighborhood are today as well as historic style composition? 

Entrants are free to make reasonable assumptions about architectural style based on the information in the site packages.  

Should outside infrastructure change recommendations be specified in the submission, or are we to assume things like bicycle lanes etc. will be added later to accommodate a greater number of residents?

Entrants can choose to include in their proposals recommendations for infrastructure like bicycle lanes, or leave this to the jury’s imagination as reasonable improvements that would follow densification. 

For the material cost multiplier, cell C:27, my understanding is that this is relating to wood frame construction. Is there a cost multiplier for mass timber that all teams should use for easy comparison?

The experts we consulted did not offer a cost multiplier for mass timber because its use is not widespread enough to standardize. Entrants may make their own estimation for a multiplier for mass timber. 

Is every team expected to submit a video?

Yes. As outlined in the Submission Requirements, all teams must submit a video that is 1-minute long at maximum (maximum file size of 50 MB). 

Should we design 2 escape stairs for each building?

Entrants should work within existing codes and regulations except where they propose to challenge those codes and regulations. This could be a code that an entrant chooses to challenge, providing.

The base case land cost for sites A,B,C says $275/SF, whereas the land cost for site D is $700/SF. Is this correct? 

That is correct. Please note a minor error in the spreadsheet tab for Regional case: Cell H18 should be $275 / SF for the regional case. ($700 / SF is the correct amount for City Centre case only.)

In block B, if the FAR of our design is 2, should we decrease the height or the building coverage?

Entrants should make decisions such as this to best support their case for producing more affordable, sociable, and efficient housing. Note that density for this site can be increased to 3.0 FAR.