Vancouver bans doorknobs - in pursuit of 'universal design'

City law now says all new construction projects must include lever-handled doors

Be warned – when Vancouver decides to crack down on something which it decides is unacceptable in society, the rest of Canada (and by extension the world) tends to take notice.

So it may be time to say a fond farewell to the city’s latest unusual target – the traditional doorknob.

Legislation has been passed to change Vancouver’s official building regulations so that all new construction plans only include doors which open with a lever-style handle.

While the ban on doorknobs does not extend to existing buildings, as refits and new builds gradually take over it is inevitable that the now dated method of opening doors will be phased out.

The decision has not been made for aesthetic reasons, however. The city is instead pursuing the concept of “universal design” – that all buildings should be accessible to as many people as possible.

The ideas are outlined in the US by a guide written for the Americans with Disabilities Act, which explains that any door handle which needs to be operated with “tight grasping, pinching or twisting” may be impassable for someone with a disease like arthritis.

Tim Stainton, a professor and director of the School of Social Work at the University of British Columbia, told the Vancouver Sun  the concept is based around building a society as open as possible to everyone, rather than creating exceptions to fit a few.

“Basically, the idea is that you try to make environments that are as universally usable by any part of the population,” he said.

“The old model was adaptation, or adapted design. You took a space and you adapted for use of the person with a disability. What universal design says is let’s turn it around and let’s just build everything so it is as usable by the largest segments of the population as possible.”

The legislation has been written in consultation with the building industry in Vancouver, and will be effective from March. The Sun explains that Vancouver is the only city in Canada with its own building code – and changes more often than not then pass on to the national scale.

Is this a bad thing for Canada? Will Johnston, the former Vancouver chief building inspector who drafted the changes, said he won’t bemoan the loss of the doorknob.

“Technology changes,” he told the paper. “Things change – we live with that. When I look at what we are proposing, it is simply good design. It allows for homes to be built that can be used more easily for everybody.”

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