Laneway Housing in Calgary

JB |



mC:t    2015.08.10


Major cities like Vancouver and Melbourne have been utilizing laneway housing as a method to create density in neighbourhoods and to provide affordable housing for the city’s inhabitants. These cities saw the potential in their secondary roadway system, and similar to Calgary they were clearly under utilized, filled with garbage receptacles, garages and stray cats.


Studio North, a local Calgary Design & Build firm, has only been in operation for a little over two years but is already one of the leading advocates, and at the forefront of Laneway housing in Calgary. Dalhousie School of Architecture graduates, Matthew Kennedy and Mark Erickson are the cofounders and Creative Directors of Studio North and can recognize the potential of our often forgotten alley systems. The duo sat down with makeCalgary to tell us all about the benefits and challenges of Laneway housing in Calgary.


studio north 3Laneway Housing in Calgary

Calgary has a few neighbourhoods that have been zoned to allow for laneway housing, including Garrison Woods and Mackenzie Towne, but with the rising cost of living and an increasing population in Calgary, transforming laneways is becoming an attractive solution for more neighbourhoods. The re-zoning of particular areas in the city has many benefits, allowing for a greater density of community members to live in the inner city, as well as the potential for multi generations of families to live in close quarters. Coincidentally, the housing typology also allows for autonomy through increased detached housing in an already established area. Additionally, laneway housing is an additive condition to particular areas of the city, as Kennedy mentions, since laneway housing is an “effective method to add development to Calgary’s older communities without completely demolishing them, you are just adding a new layer”.


Currently, Studio North is making their laneway home aspirations a reality. Kennedy and Erickson purchased a home in Parkdale and are in the process of renovating the main dwelling, turning it into a rental property. The two plan to make use of the rental funds to build a laneway house of their own design on the same property. Kennedy and Erickson says that this is an ideal situation for them, “to rent out the main dwelling to someone who could afford to live there, who needs the space for a growing family and who will ultimately help us pay our mortgage”. The laneway home that they build will allow Erickson and Kennedy to own and live in a home located in an inner city community.


studio north parkdaleWithrow Laneway House

The process of applying for a laneway home in the city involves obtaining a development permit approved by licensed planners employed by the city. Currently, the application for a laneway development permit is free. From their experience Erickson states that “the process can take up to 8-10 weeks, and you have to be patient and understand that the application process takes time, and to plan ahead”.   As an added tip, Erickson suggests providing letters of support from other community members. When the development permit is approved, then a building permit can be acquired.


 studio north 2Withrow Laneway House


In some cases some development permits have not been approved due to unsupportive residents in the community being concerned with potential issues to the design, for instance, overshadowing created by the laneway home. Erickson emphasizes the importance of “hiring a good designer to address issues that may arise from the community during the process, and to try and make everyone in the community happy”.


Specifically to Erickson and Kennedy’s laneway home, they found the community to be very supportive. Kennedy says it was in part due to a clear and concise presentation to the planning and development board, coupled with a good design “that fit the site and was sensitive to the neighbours and the historic property it occupies”.


When Erickson and Kennedy are designing a laneway home they say that one of their main concerns is scale and “making sure that the backyard does not seem like it is surrounded by buildings.” To address this personal critique, Studio North transforms the courtyard space into “more of an outdoor room by designing a shared living area that could include a fire place, for example” Kennedy says.


A concern many residents have with laneway housing is that the increase in residents in the community will result in a shortage of parking. Their concerns, however, fall short when they find that a laneway home design often includes a garage on the main level, allocating the living space to the top of the garage. With the increased density, functions such as these allow for the success of the laneway housing typology.


Studio North has recently penned a multi-page comic book detailing how they imagine laneway housing ideally developing in Calgary over the next 25 years. In describing the book, Kennedy states, “We located all of the rapid transit stations in Calgary and drew a 500 meter radius, these areas are easily accessible, the city would then make the zoning process for the residents to build laneway housing easier. Ideally, these garages will stop acting as garages and become incubators for small businesses. These garages will act as hubs and add to the identity of the community.” Kennedy adds, “most suburban communities are vacant during the day when everyone is at work. The laneway housing can provide a second use for these zones, so there is always a constant use for these communities.”


Erickson adds, “We want to create more human friendly spaces in the city in terms of infrastructure, creating more walk-able and bike-able streetscapes”. Kennedy follows up by saying, “It really is a small unit of change, it does not evolve mass demolition, it is something that you can really see happening over the next 100 years and can be achieved on a smaller scale. A developer does not have to be involved. Laneway houses create these interesting places to live. It will be fun to live in a laneway house!”


 studio north 4“Laneway Housing in Calgary”

Thank you Studio North for sharing your thoughts on laneway housing. To learn more about Studio North check out their website:




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[1] “Garden Loft”. Studio North. Accessed August 09, 2015.

[2] “Laneway Housing in Calgary”. Studio North. Accessed August 09, 2015.

[3] “Withrow Laneway House”. Studio North. Accessed August 09, 2015.

[4] “Withrow Laneway House”. Studio North. Accessed August 09, 2015.

[5] “Laneway Housing in Calgary”. Studio North. Accessed August 09, 2015.

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