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How To Design A Multiplex / Houseplex in Victoria: Part 1

Updated: Feb 10

Developing a houseplex - the city of Victoria's term for a small multifamily building - involves far more work than you probably thought, and not doing adequate research could get you in some serious trouble.

Over the course of this series of articles, I will walk through the steps that I as an architect take to design a hypothetical houseplex in Victoria. For this theoretical project, the location is a property chosen at random from the map, and the client - whom I've named "Ken" is entirely fictional (including his AI-generated photo). I will also be walking through the process for a multiplex in Vancouver in a separate series of articles, starting with Part 1 (link).

simulated photograph of modern small multifamily building, black metal, vertical wood siding

The articles demonstrate first the work involved before design begins - the pre-design phase - and then work through the design phase. Most owners - homeowners, amateur and professional developers, and their architects - rush into design without enough research. The results are delays, additional design fees, and construction cost extras down the road. My pre-design research digs up considerations and works through choices to avoid paying extra later.

You will gain an understanding of most things to research if you are considering to build. I won't get much into the legalities of real estate transactions or fees and other soft costs involved in any real estate development; my role as the architect is the design consultant. By the end of this first article, you'll see we first establish a clear picture of the client's motivation to ensure the project develops a consistent direction.

First, the reason why Ken is interested in a houseplex is the new zoning regulation for Missing Middle Housing that was passed by Victoria City Council in January (2023). We need to perform a quick check first to see if this development applies to Ken. Ken's property is on Burton Ave, near Doncaster Drive. It's a 16.25m x 36.51 m (53.3' x 119.8') lot that is zoned R1-B.

excerpt from VicMap online mapping tool

Bylaw No. 22-045 is an amendment bylaw that changes the Zoning Regulation Bylaw 80-159 to permit multifamily buildings described in a new "Schedule P". However, this applies only to properties in certain zones, of which R1-B is one. So far so good. This amendment also doesn't apply to properties that has heritage conservation restrictions on it. Ken's property isn't a heritage situation in any way, so still good. Also, the new rules don't apply to panhandle lots or waterfront lots, so it appears that we can indeed take advantage of the new density with Ken's mid-block lot. You should note that how *many* units are permitted often is dictated by the size of the lot.

The new Schedule P - Missing Middle Regulations - is 9 pages long, and the Missing Middle Design Guidelines is 26 pages long, but instead of looking immediately at the property and launching into what we can build, we need to learn WHY we are designing and HOW to design; we need to return to the source: Ken.

I could have five different clients each with identical properties to Ken, and each would have a different set of needs, priorities, and values. The results would be different buildings. One owner may want to develop at absolute minimum cost and flip the property. Is he flipping a whole rental building, or is he stratifying it and selling the units? Another owner may want to maximize the rental size even if it means extra requirements to satisfy for the city. Yet another owner may want a high-quality building because his family will occupy some of the units.

If this was your project, consider what particular needs and priorities that you have. Since it's your initiative and partly or entirely your money, you'd want to make sure the design was JUST RIGHT. What would you want to make sure made its way into the design of the building - something that couldn't be left to someone else to speak on your behalf? How would you feel if nobody asked you if there was anything personally important to you?

simulated photo of middle-aged Japanese man with sunglasses and collared shirt, sunny and trees in the background

Ken's lived in Victoria since he was ten. He's 51 and single; he works in facilities management for the Capital Regional District. His mother moved in with him five years ago when his father passed away. He lives at the current house his dad helped buy a dozen years ago. He enjoys mountain biking, camping, and is a bit of a movie buff.

His parents had been living in a condo, and he has been renting it out for his mother since his dad passed. Ken and his mother are interested in demolishing the existing house and could live in the condo while a houseplex is constructed.

Project Pillars

The first exercise I take a client through is establishing the Project Pillars. These are the things that are most important to you and which will drive every decision going forward. They may be abstract or physical, objective or subjective. Regardless, you will have your own blend of priorities that establishes the "DNA" behind the final design. Ken's job is to scan through the 70+ options I present and pick the top 3 that matter most to him. Since he plans to live in this building once completed, most of the directives are personal requirements of a home rather than as an investment property.


simulated photo of home interior, full-wall glazing facing garden and small waterfall outside, living room with comfortable furniture

Ken's father followed Shintoism, and while Ken is not strongly religious, he has a deep appreciation for the value of nature beyond the scientific benefits of plant life. He needs to feel connected to the natural outdoors even when he's indoors.


modern interior urban condo in the city, soft glow from designer light fixture, abstract painting on wall, very muted colours, dusk through the large window

The next priority is comfort. Ken wants his mother to be as comfortable as possible in the last years he has with her. He doesn't know yet whether she will have her own suite or will live in the same unit, so comfort will apply to the entire building.


hyperrealist painting of an interior of a upper level space in a home, sunlight casting shadows, easy chair with throw blankets and pillows, off-white tones

Ken considers himself mostly an introvert; his work requires him to direct teams and manage projects, so his off-time is his opportunity to re-centre. His home will be his retreat. His office is entirely divorced from nature, so the concepts of nature and sanctuary will work hand in hand for his home.

Climate Resilience

closeup of modern building, wood slats and narrow windows, dark tones

Even in the heart of Victoria's suburbs, strong windstorms in the spring and autumn knock out power with increasing frequency. The wind itself is also a concern for Ken, so storms are an important fourth addition to the primary factors behind the design. As well, being involved in facilities management has taught Ken the value of future risk assessment. He wants to safeguard this building from known future threats.

Obviously, Ken wants to keep the cost of construction down, but minimizing cost is no more important to him than to anyone else. He understands the necessity of capital investment to minimize future, escalating costs. Next, I ask Ken to rank these four concepts in order of importance to him. This forces him to exercise them as priorities - something he'll have to do later at different points in the project. He orders them as follows from most to less important:

  1. Sanctuary

  2. Comfort

  3. Nature

  4. Climate Resilience

At this point, these are really just words to me. In Ken's mind however, they mean far more and have many connotations. I ask Ken to explain to me how we know when each of these things has been successfully achieved.

Successful Outcomes

Successful Sanctuary

a middle-aged Japanese man with glasses, reclining, headphones on, seemingly at peace

Ken feels that all the stresses of his daily work fade to nothing when he walks through the door. There's nothing that reminds him of the working world. He's free to disconnect entirely. At home, nothing can reach him, nothing can touch him; he's completely safe. He's free to spend time on whatever hobby or leisure he wants.

Successful Comfort

An elderly Japanese woman stands near a dining area near a large patio door, kitchen in the foreground, sunlight illuminating the interior, a tree in the courtyard

While Ken wants to feel comfortable, he wants more his mother to feel at ease. She must feel not as though she is burdening her son in his building but has her own space to make as her own home. The temperature is always just right. It's never dark indoors nor is there any bothersome glare. The layout of her suite is efficient enough that it's only a few steps to get what she needs, but it's open enough never to feel cramped or cluttered. The light entering needs to flow through the whole suite. Ken's mother is a more social creature than he, and she needs to see out to the goings-on around the home. Ken wants to ensure that she never feels as though she's been stowed away into some little compartment.

Successful Nature

simulated photograph of a senior Japanese man sitting in a sunroom on the floor, plants in the background, soft sunlight shining in

When Ken walks through his front door, he wants to feel as though he's retreating to the forest, surrounded by life that is inherently at peace with itself. He can hear the faint music of water moving, perhaps through a Suikinkutsu in his small garden. He can smell either flowers or moss, the air is gentle and moist, and the light is always dappled. Wherever he's looking, there is some well-lit greenery at least in the corner of his vision.

Successful Climate Resilience

realistic painting of a man standing beside his house with the lights on, a streak of lightning beyond illuminating the neighbourhood otherwise dark from the power outage caused by the storm

When the power goes out, Ken wants to know that he and his mother are still safe and able to enjoy their home. The lights are still on, the air is fresh, and the temperature is comfortable regardless of what chaos is happening outside.

Now that Ken has identified which aspects of the project are most important, we can start to look at the permitting process with the Planning Department, and I'll walk through that in my next article.

Are you considering building a multiplex or houseplex in Victoria, Vancouver, or any other city that has adopted the small multifamily type of building? You may want to read my Permitting Guide page or download my Design Process Guide, Project Roadmap, or Project Planning Pack.

The most common frustration that people who come to me have is how the rules for developing and building are confusing. As an architect, I regularly work with legislation from the city and provincial governments, so I can help demystify the awkward way in which these documents are written. If you'd like to investigate your options for a multiplex, please book a Diagnostic Session - a free, 30-minute phone call with me - by clicking below, and I'll get you pointed in the right direction knowing the best next step to take.



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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