Design: Design Guidelines

As Vancouver grows and evolves, we need to ensure that there are housing options that meet the needs of the diverse households that live and work here, including more “missing middle” housing options. With the help of Quickviz, the City of Vancouver developed this useful video that illustrates the changes proposed to allow more of this type housing in low density neighbourhoods across the city as part of the implementation of the Vancouver Plan. The animation depicts a standard block with a variety of housing options, including multiplexes (buildings with up to 6 units on a single lot).

Discover organizations from across Canada, and the rest of the world, who are contributing towards the gentle density movement and the delivery of homes that people want, need & deserve.

Name: ReHousing

About: ReHousing is a research initiative that explores how to convert single-family homes into multi-unit housing, using affordable, common-sense design to yield high-quality, well-designed space.

ReHousing is a collaboration between the University of Toronto, Tuf Lab and LGA Architectural Partners. This partnership brings together structured design research methods with practice-based knowledge to address real-world problems.

For more information:

Key insights:

In November of 2023, the province of British Columbia released their “Homes for People Plan” that drastically reduced zoning and municipal barriers to the creation of gentle density homes. In summary, new legislation requires all local governments in British Columbia to update their zoning bylaws to allow up to three to four units in all single-family zones and up to six units for properties with frequent bus service.

This resource, developed by the province, is intended to help local governments and their community members understand the legislative changes introduced related to small-scale, multi-unit housing (SSMUH).

Note: The information in this tool kit is for guidance only and is not a substitute for provincial
legislation. It is not legal advice and should not be relied on for that purpose.

Discover organizations from across Canada, and the rest of the world, who are contributing towards the gentle density movement and the delivery of homes that people want, need & deserve.

Name: Smallworks

About: For the last 16 years, Smallworks has been the heart of laneway housing in North America and we have operated with a simple mission, to empower homeowners to create housing solutions that work for them.

The organisation strongly believe in this form of housing; infill housing provides gentle density, while preserving the neighbourhoods we’ve come to know and love.

Having built nearly 400 homes, they take pride in being able to use experience to accurately project both cost and timeline, ensuring that their homes are built on time, on budget, and with no surprises.

For more information: Head to their dedicated website.

The Infill Challenge Best Practices Summary from the City of Kelowna provides an analysis of leading edge policies, processes and projects in infill housing, and gives us the opportunity to learn from them.

Key insights:

The Best Practices Guide is intended to provide leading edge examples of infill housing from across Canada in the areas of process, development, and policy and regulations. The key lessons from each of these areas can be used to inform the Infill Challenge project as it unfolds in Kelowna.

Samples include:


  • Engage stakeholders early
  • Follow an objective, transparent process
  • Use data and research to clarify needs and objectives


  • Encourage the use of place-based design
  • Ensure that lane access and a grid network are in place
  • Require that front doors face the street, where possible

Policy & Development:

  • Use clear language (no jargon)
  • Support the process with strong visuals
  • Consider context-based zoning regulations and guidelines

Based out of Melbourne, Future Homes offers a useful blueprint to consider in the delivery of pre-approved designs.

Facilitating the construction of enhanced gentle density dwellings, Future Homes was developed by the Department of Transport & Planning in Victoria and offers four distinct sets of site-less designs available for purchase, each boasting unique styles, layouts, and designs.

Key insights:

  • Pre-approved designs simplifies & streamlines the planning process for citizen developers and related actors
  • Pre-approved designs provide a versatile and customizable approach to apartment construction
  • Can play a central role in fostering better and more adaptable living spaces for diverse communities.

Image to the left shows Design Strategy Architecture with IncluDesign‘s “Future Homes Design A”.

Emphasizing factors like layout, landscaping, private open space, light, natural ventilation, and privacy, the guide is a vital resource for enhancing design and ensuring consistency across diverse housing projects.

The comprehensive Low-Rise Housing Diversity Design Guide for complying development was crafted in collaboration with the New South Wales Government, councils, industry stakeholders, and the community, and offers a standardized approach to designing and delivering high-quality dual occupancies, manor houses, and terraces.

Explore the guide and be inspired on how to elevate the quality and cohesion of low-rise housing developments.

Older central Montreal neighborhoods, developed in the early 20th century, are among Canada’s densest urban areas. This is achieved through the iconic Montreal “plex” design, stacking two or three apartments on narrow lots without sacrificing livability or relying on high-rise buildings.

Key insights:

The older neighbourhoods in central Montreal – developed in the first half of the 20th century – comprise some of the densest urban areas in Canada, something that is achieved without sacrificing livability or frequent recourse to high-rise buildings.

As this Small Housing Case Study outlines, the key to this puzzling success is the iconic Montreal “plex”, i.e., the stacking of two (“duplex”) or three (“triplex”) apartments on narrow (20-25 feet) lots with each apartment having its own front and back door and civic address.

This convivial solution that nicely combines density, livability, affordability, and conservation, iconic to Montreal, flourished in the first half of the 20th century but then fell victim to changing building regulations in the post-war period. A demand for this traditional housing solution eventually led to a relaxation of building regulations and return of the plex as an acceptable housing solution.

The City of South Bend, Indiana has created a set of pre-approved plans for small to medium density building types (carriage house – sixplex apartment) to help foster infill development and to offer a vehicle for local residents to earn income.

Key insights:

  • A pre-approved plans catalog
  • Building plan and building permit applications
  • Iinfill process and property inspection checklist for prospective developers.
  • Detailed steps including obtaining a property survey, preparing a site plan, requesting design deviations, procuring technical contractors, and preparing a cost estimate for a prospective development project.
  • The pre-approved catalog provides context on the initiative, the infill process checklist, and 9 sample designs for developers.

Opticos Design logo - abstract view of a town zoning map, colour is yellow with black text overlay

On this resourceful webpage, Opticos provides an overview of the various housing typologies that fall under Missing Middle Housing, including duplexes, fourplexes, cottage courts, townhomes, multiplexes, and triplexes.

Opticos Design founder Daniel Parolek inspired a new movement for housing choice in 2010 when he coined the term  “Missing Middle Housing,” a transformative concept that highlights a time-proven and beloved way to provide more housing and more housing choices in sustainable, walkable places.

Key insights:

  • For each housing type detailed, a sheet of technical specifications including lot size, number of units, and parking spaces is provided.
  • Idealized specifications are articulated along with a sample site design to display the development potential of each typology.
  • Each housing type is accompanied by a case study of a completed housing project that conforms to these specifications.