The generic little house known as the Vancouver Special: Before

2540 E. 6th Avenue

This house, as any Vancouverite knows, is what is known as a Vancouver Special. It’s a type of generic builder’s house, built mostly between about 1965 and 1985, that is entirely specific to this city. While it’s slowly gaining a sort of ironic or retro fan base, it’s not generally viewed as Vancouver’s best contribution to architecture. All of these photos were found on the amazing archival site Vancouver Special, a project of artist Keith Higgins. Not only is the site amazingly complete, but he’s set it up so that can cross-index these houses depending on whether you want to see all the Vancouver Specials on corner lots, or only the ones with lions, or with only vertical siding, or with stonework. It’s strangely mesmerizing.

A few years ago, a small number of Vancouverites began to figure out that these deprecated houses are actually smart purchases. For one thing, they tend to be cheaper than average (granted this is still not saying a lot, given Vancouver prices, and it probably won’t last), and for another, it doesn’t take much alteration to fix them up. Vancouver Specials have a relatively modern shape, something that’s otherwise nearly completely lacking in Vancouver, and while these places often don’t look all that prepossessing on the outside, inside they have a liveable and spacious layout. The next posts, titled Vancouver Special: After, will show some of the improvements people have been making to these places. Note: the house directly below is 2 doors to the west of me.

626 Keefer St.

Vancouver Special 2211napier.JPG

Vancouver Special at 3809 Fleming

Vancouver Special at 2560 Venables

3 comments on "The generic little house known as the Vancouver Special: Before"

  1. I wonder if there’s a (place the name of the city) special in most communities.

    I believe that there is a “Quinte Special” in this area where I live. There are so many homes that are described as having a basement that is raised partially so that there are thin windows to expose light into the basement. Here’s one example:

    This archival website reminds me of this book that archives dingbat apartment buildings and homes in Los Angeles:

    1. Jonathan, I was wondering the same thing! I’m sure “Special” isn’t always the suffix but I’d like to discover more local pejorative terms for each region’s most hated architecture. I recognize the style of house in your link; I think we have some of those out here too. I wish we had more dingbats (and thanks for teaching me that term). Fantastic!
      ii-ne-kore, I know what you mean. Yes, I think you’ll find that some of the houses in the following posts have been fixed up too much for your liking; but some haven’t. The first “after” post shows one that has been changed quite substantially, but there are others I’ll show later which, apart from colour and some facing, and an updated kitchen, remain pretty true to the original. A couple of weeks ago there was a tour of renovated Vancouver Specials and I went on it, but sadly no interior photography was allowed!

  2. very interesting! love the name, and i like them! can’t wait to see what people have done (and keeping my fingers crossed that they actually have not done too much…) and my first thought is as per the above commenter…there is probably a (insert city/town name) special in many places….

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