'Enterprise' Magazine July 2011, Article by Yolanda Brooks
"Bryn Davidson creates grand designs on a small scale. Motivated by a desire to build sustainable cities, the Vancouver-based designer builds homes for a future where scarce energy supplies and climate change will dictate the way we live. Whether retro-fitting single-family homes, creating communities from scratch, or building innovative micro-homes, he’s always looked for ways to tweak and challenge current lifestyle choices and expectations. “The issues of oil depletion and climate change are really going to force us to do things quite differently as a society,” says Bryn, an accredited LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) designer. “We need to start thinking about it now because everything we build will have an impact in 20, 30, 50 years or more.”
With a degree in mechanical engineering and a master’s in architecture, Bryn is better placed than most to put his ideals into action. Together with his wife, an urban transportation planner, the couple turned their 400-sq.-ft. condo into a test case for small-footprint living. With meticulous planning and creative design choices, they developed a compact, energy-efficient liveable space that would inform the next phase of Bryn’s career.
When the financial crisis hit in 2008, Bryn made the gutsy move to set up Lanefab Design/Build with Mat Turner, who owned a local construction company. As building projects got cancelled, they looked at the industry, thought about their personal passions, and created a company to fill a niche in the market that was about to be propelled by the City of Vancouver.
With land in short supply in Vancouver and eco-density a priority of the municipal government, city council had long pondered the option of laneway homes — small free-standing houses built at the back of single-family homes with lane access. The new dwellings cannot be sold separately; they belong to the owners of the original house on the lot. The additional space can be rented out, used by extended family, or even by owners who opt to move into the new building to reap the rental income from their original home.
“People had been studying it, and planning it, and discussing it forever, and the City of Vancouver was finally getting serious aboutit,” recalls Bryn.“We formed Lanefab, held some presentations, rounded up a few clients and had some projects ready to go right when council passed the bylaw.” Within a few months of the regulation being passed, Lanefab erected the city’s first laneway home.
The rapid start-up got a boost from Vancouver City Savings Credit Union ($14.5 billion in assets), where Bryn and his wife already had personal memberships. “When we moved here from Alaska, we were interested in organizations that cared for the environment and cared for social justice issues and, at the time, Vancity was one of the few organizations talking about that, so it seemed like a natural fit for us,” he says. “When it came time to startup a business, it seemed like Vancity was a good place to go as they had supported a lot of green building projects.”
Bryn isn’t just interested in building small, he also insists on building smart. While not every Lanefab building has “net-zero” impact, all of the homes built so far incorporate green technologies as standard, such as pre-fabricated and heavily insulated walls and roofs, heat recovery systems, LED lights and solar roof panels — standards he hopes become the norm. “Our goal was not to build a fantastic green building that cost a million dollars and do it once,” he says. “We wanted to come up with a system that we could do every single time and have a competitive price with other builders. If you can’t do it multiple times, it really doesn’t have much impact.”
When he’s not building or designing, Bryn is thinking of big picture solutions to environmental problems in his role as executive director of The Dynamic Cities Project, a non-profit think tank. Throughthe organization, he shares his real-world knowledge in the hope that others will follow. “People ask why we put in so much effort and it is a lot of effort to try to innovate — and part of it is that, globally, we are in a fairly big predicament with regards to energy and the environment. In our work, we need to be demonstrating what we think is the way forward,” he says.