It could be the death knell of the door knob.
The city of Vancouver has amended its building code to outlaw the use of those wrist-twisting devices in all new construction, including private homes. Door knobs had already been opener non grata in large buildings. The new ruling, effective in March, will not affect existing homes.
Instead of door knobs, new buildings will be equipped with easier-to-manoeuvre levers. The change is a victory for what’s known as universal design, creating spaces and buildings that are easily accessible for everyone.
“This is very progressive of Vancouver,” says Howard Gerry, a professor specializing in universal design at Toronto’s OCAD University. “It makes good sense, even for private houses. Think about an aging population or an individual carrying groceries or small children. Levers make access easier.”
Some critics, however, see the knob ban as overkill. “No pun intended, but it seems heavy-handed,” says Frank Garcea, vice-president of construction for Monarch Homes.In Ontario, door knobs are a dying breed in public buildings. The Ontario Building Code stipulates that door openers must not require “tight grasping and twisting of the wrist” in all buildings except houses.
The Municipal Affairs and Housing Ministry held public consultations earlier this year about enhancing accessibility. No decisions have been made on how the code might be amended.But is Vancouver’s move just the beginning of the end? Is the door knob doomed?
“I say, good riddance. It never functioned well,” explains Gerry. “I don’t view it as a good piece of design.”
“Perhaps it is doomed,” adds June Komisar, associate professor of architecture at Ryerson University. Architecture students are now taught early on to design projects for universal access, she says.
The wave of the future is probably electronic entry, says Gerry. “Maybe we’ll have tags under our skin so you get close to the door and it’s geared to open,” he suggests.
Still, the door knob has defenders. “I’m shocked to hear this,” says Sam Mirshak, owner of the architectural antique shop, The Door Store, when told about the Vancouver ban. “I can see it for community buildings and institutions, but not homes.
“I have strong feelings about hardware. Door knobs are lovely. They’re the jewelry of the door.”
Door knobs began replacing latches in the early 1800s in the U.S., particularly after manufacturers made pressed-glass knobs, says Allen Joslyn, president of the Antique Door Knob Collectors of America. Then, in the 1860s, the Victorians, loath to leave anything undecorated, created intricate and embossed knobs.
“I don’t think it’s doomed. Even in Vancouver, they’re not asking people to retrofit,” says Joslyn confidently.
Builder Garcea isn’t worried about the knob’s residential future. “I’ve done lots of upgrades over the years,” he says. “No one has ever asked me to delete all the door knobs.”
But only antique knobs stir nostalgia, points out Gerry. “The contemporary ones are just round pieces of steel.”
Levers now come in a range of designs, including options with an old-fashioned esthetic, he says. Some day people may collect antique levers, admiring the beautiful patina acquired through age and wear, he suggests.