City Of Vancouver Shows Doorknobs The Exit

Nov 20, 2013
Originally published on November 21, 2013 6:10 pm

The doorknob is dead. At least in Vancouver, British Columbia.

A recent revision in the city's building code, designed to improve accessibility, shows the door to the venerable knob, replacing it with the hipper and easier-to-use lever.

The Vancouver Sun reports:

"In September, Vancouver council adopted new amendments to its building code, effective next March, that, among other things, will require lever handles on all doors and lever faucets in all new housing construction."

The change has been coming for some time. Last year, for example, all the Art Deco doorknobs in Vancouver's heritage-listed City Hall were swapped out for "utilitarian gold-coloured levers," The Sun says.

The newspaper says Vancouver is a national trendsetter, so there appears to be no way out of the doorknob's impending demise across Canada.

Some accuse Vancouver city officials of flying off the handle with the new code. Allen Joslyn, president of the (New Jersey-based) Antique Doorknob Collectors of America, says he understands that in a public building "everybody wants to have free access, and that is a problem.

"But to say that when I build my private home and nobody is disabled that I have to put levers on strikes me as overreach," Joslyn says.

There won't be a doorknob "police squad busting into homes," Consumerist writes, but "all new housing construction will have to comply with the updated code and use lever handles and faucets. So if you've got a knob, you can keep it. Cherish it, call it your precious, whatever you want," the website says.

Even so, The Sun says:

"It is not like the doorknob will disappear entirely. Like many inventions, it will hold its own for a long, long time. There are, after all, a few people who still use typewriters instead of computers. Vancouver's rule is not retroactive to existing homes. But over time, the effect will become magnified as housing is replaced."

Updated Friday at 4:15 p.m.: On Friday, All Things Considered host Robert Siegel talked to Tom Lee, City Hall reporter for The Vancouver Sun about the change. You can hear that interview by clicking play above.

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You know the saying: What goes around comes around? How about: What goes and comes around goes away? At least it's starting to go away in Vancouver, British Columbia. I'm referring to the door knob. Starting next year, doors in new buildings, and that includes houses, must be fitted with levers, not round knobs. The idea is to make doors easier to open and close if you're older or if you have arthritis, or some other disability.

Jeff Lee covers City Hall for the Vancouver Sun and he joins us now. He's written about this.

And, Jeff Lee, first you should explain to us Vancouver has a unique authority over buildings in the city.

JEFF LEE: It does. It's actually the only city in Canada that has its own building code. Vancouver, as the owner of its own building code, actually ends up setting a lot of the standards across Canada. When they make a change here because of something that they find is wanting, often the provincial code writers or the national code in Ottawa, they then chase it into their codes.

SIEGEL: Well, when did the doorknob come to be seen as wanting in Vancouver?

LEE: Well, actually I think the doorknob has been seen wanting for a long time in a lot of cities. I mean, if you think about it, think of any office building that you go into. You'll see quite often levers. The lever has been around for a long, long time - as a matter of fact, actually predates the doorknob. Levers though have just started to come back into vogue as we've discovered, that as we get older, it's harder to open doors.

SIEGEL: Well, what has been reaction in Vancouver to this?

LEE: Oh. Well, the reaction in Vancouver, you know, a lot of people have said: What are you talking about? I think it's the idea that a government is telling you what you can have and have not. I'm getting a lot of calls from people who are saying: Are these guys nuts?

SIEGEL: I gather that the city of Vancouver actually began replacing its doorknobs sometime ago.

LEE: Yes, I've covered City Hall for many years. And, you know, they have these beautifully ornate knobs. The building was built in 1936. It's a heritage art deco style. And sometime last year, I went to open up a door there and, by golly, there's no doorknob there. And it was, in fact, a replacement lever. And so I asked someone: What happened to the doorknobs? Because there were these beautiful brass door knobs that have the VCH embossed into the front of it - for Vancouver City Hall. And they said, oh, well, you know, we had to replace them for accessibility reasons. And I said, really? And the next thing I know they had presented me with a pair of doorknobs, that they had taken off and put into storage. And they're going on my house.

SIEGEL: You have written though - you have quoted in an article the architect described the door handle as the handshake of a building.

LEE: Yes.

SIEGEL: It's actually very lyrical description of that, hadn't thought of it. Is there a new outburst of nostalgia for doorknobs since they've been shown the door?

LEE: Holy smokes - let me tell you. Yes, there's nostalgia there. I mean there's nobody who's saying, look, the city should put its doorknobs back on.

SIEGEL: Well, Jeff Lee, it seems that you by your writing have single-handedly enhanced the value of doorknobs all over Canada, if not North America.

LEE: I don't know if that's a legacy that I really care to...


LEE: have.

SIEGEL: Well, thanks for talking with us just the same.

LEE: You're welcome.

SIEGEL: Jeff Lee, who covers City Hall for the Vancouver Sun.



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