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Do You Need An Architect To Build A Multiplex Or Houseplex?

Updated: Feb 17

If you try to design a multiplex or houseplex without an architect, there's a chance that you will face some serious delays or potentially face a bit of a legal headache.

Below, I'll summarize rather briefly how to determine whether or not you will be required by law to hire an architect to design your multiplex. One of the challenges is the fact that - legally speaking - some multiplexes will require an architect while others will not.

If you pay a designer or design-builder to design a building which is required by provincial legislation to be designed by an architect, one of two things will almost certainly happen:

1. No Permit

The city will not accept your building permit application - or possibly even your development permit application - and you will have wasted money on the design. An architect will need to start from the beginning and prepare his/her own drawings. In addition to wasted money, you will have wasted valuable time - your own time and time during which construction costs escalate.

2. No Occupancy

The city mistakenly issues both the development permit application and the building permit application so that construction begins. At some point during construction - possibly near completion - the inspector will check for the required letter of assurance from an architect. In this scenario, your permit will likely be revoked and construction may be forced to halt. If your designer is competent, hopefully you won't need to demolish anything. You will still need to find and pay for an architect to prepare documentation, and you then need to apply for another permit, wait for it to be approved, and pay for the new permit. Again a great deal of time lost while your construction site sits shuttered, bounded by rented construction fencing that is costing you by the day, and you're not making any rental income but still paying taxes. Oh, and since we're all human, it's possible that the city staff reviewing the second permit will be scrutinizing the application more closely.

Technically, there's a third potential scenario: the city approves the permits including the occupancy permit, and only a few years later when someone asks if an architect was involved as required does the crap hit the fan. This happened to one municipality several years ago. The municipality subsequently lost the case in the BC Supreme Court and was forced to admit it had made an error. Cities are more sensitive to this obligation now, so it's pretty much a given that one of the two former scenarios will occur.

Onto the solution.


The Vancouver Building By-Law (VBBL) and the BC Building Code have nearly the same requirements for requiring architects and engineers. A fairly newly-revised provincial Professional Governance Act is now more aligned. Rather than force you to interpret them, here are some quick questions:

1. Building Area

The building area is a birdseye view (looking down) of your building and defines the greatest horizontal extent of portions above the ground. Is this area greater than 600 m² (6458 ft²)?

Yes - You need an architect and an engineer (and in Vancouver, a building envelope professional)

No - Move onto question #2

2. Building Height

The first storey of your building is generally at ground level or up to 2m (6'-7") above the ground. If you have a floor 7' above the ground, your first storey would actually be the next one down. Using that definition of the FIRST storey, how many storeys would your building have?

4 or more - You need an architect and an engineer (and in Vancouver, a building envelope professional)

3 or less - Move onto question #3

3. Dwelling Units

A dwelling unit is defined as "a suite operated as a housekeeping unit, used or intended to be used by one or more persons and usually containing cooking, eating, living, sleeping and sanitary facilities". Basically if it has a bathroom, someplace to sleep, and something for cooking, it's a dwelling unit. A secondary suite would count as a separate dwelling unit. How many dwelling units do you intend?

5 or more - You need an architect

4 or fewer - You probably don't need an architect...

...however, the Vancouver's building code, Vancouver Building By-Law (VBBL) has a couple additional requirements for a building with 3 units.

4. Building Envelope Professional

VBBL states that Part 5 applies to every multi-family building - a building with 3 or more dwelling units - that is more than 2 storeys tall. VBBL requires a "Building Envelope Professional" (BEP) on every residential building under Part 5. You will also have a structural engineer. Both the structural engineer and BEP are registered professionals (RP); any time you have more than one RP on a project - not including the geotechnical engineer - you need a "Coordinating Registered Professional" (CRP). Occasionally, an engineer will fill this role, but it is normally fulfilled by an architect.

If you need an architect and are considering to build a multiplex in the next year or so, you can book a free Diagnostic Session with me using the button below. If you're still researching your options, feel free to look through my Resources page. I also offer on all projects a small pre-design service called the Pre-Design Diagnostic Scan™. You can learn more about this service in my video HERE.

If you don't need an architect, you may still want to consider hiring one. In my article, YOU DON'T NEED TO HIRE AN ARCHITECT. OR DO YOU?, and my other article Increase The Value Of Your New House By Hiring An Architect, I show how engaging an architect can improve the result in ways you weren't expecting.



The information included in this article is to an extent generic and intended for educational and informational purposes only; it does not constitute legal or professional advice. Thorough efforts are made to ensure the accuracy of the article, but having read this article, you understand and agree that Daniel Clarke Architect disclaims any legal liability for actions that may arise from reliance on the information provided in this article. Readers are recommended to consult with an architect before making any decisions or exercising judgement base on information in the article.



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