Basement living, Positive perspective

“Mr Ai says he is committed to staying in China, but he is also keen to create a European base in the cellar of the Berlin studio of his friend Olafur Eliasson, a Danish-Icelandic artist. His aspiration is that the space, which Mr Ai describes as a bunker with no light that has survived two world wars, will be renovated into something that functions as both a studio and an artwork. The location appeals to him for “strange, personal reasons”, he says. He had lived in an earthen pit as a child after his father was banished to Xinjiang. Enduring hardship, whether in dirt holes or dark interrogation rooms, is in the artist’s blood. So is making art.
“The art always wins,” Mr Ai says. “Anything can happen to me, but the art will stay.” Mr Ai’s legacy as a human-rights activist remains uncertain, but his sculptures and photographs are lasting memorials to his wit and courage.

– from ‘Artistic licence – China’s most famous artist talks about his work and how it confounded his jailers’ an article in ‘The Economist‘ [5 May 2012] about the artist Ai Weiwei.

14 responses to “Basement living, Positive perspective

  1. For your consideration how many houses in Vancouver back directly onto a backyard garden.

    There are some nice “basement” suites out there. Maybe a photographer could tour a few, for the archives.

    • Renters Revenge

      There are some nice basement suites out there, but they go for about $1M so bring your chequebook!

      • And to be fair what the Vancouver colloquial describes as “basement” isn’t always a basement like described in this post. These days landlords have caught on and just called them “suites”, even if they happen to be in the basement.

  2. This is true, many “basement” suites in Vancouver are actually ground level. This is hardly any different than living in a rancher, other than the fact your landlord is typically above you.

    Not ideal, but certainly not a basement by normal definition.

    That being said, certainly not worth 900k.

    • Odd, my own experience is quite different. I’ve looked at many rentals and have been to a lot of open houses and the percentage of “basement” suites I’ve seen that are “ground level” is miniscule.

      Why normalize something so weird that has been used to pretend that Vancouver has adequate housing? City Council’s allowing developers and builders to build larger houses with basement suites is part of what has made Vancouver now unaffordable — new builds are much bigger and accordingly much more expensive, and yet it seems many of those basement suites ultimately go unoccupied.

      Perhaps with a crash this will change. But why continue to create basement suites in a climate so dark and damp much of the year? Show me people who really want to live in basement suites and I’ll show you masochists.

      • I suppose it will depend on areas of Vancouver as well. I have lived in Vancouver for 15 years, and in that time probably spent a total of a day on the West Side.

        That being said, East Van and North/West Van has many houses with “garden” level suites. Most Vancouver Specials on the East side are ground level as well.

        My point, however is moot. I agree with the broader issue that regardless of basement suite being above or below grade, our housing stock is too expensive, rental stock substandard.

  3. Maybe part of what we’re talking about is just a difference in nomenclature — “first-floor” or “ground-floor” suites as opposed to ones that really are partially below grade, i.e. “basement”? I’ve also seen Vancouver Specials that have “first-floor” or “ground-floor” suites that are definitely not below grade.

    Agree with you on the broader issues, certainly.

  4. I’d like to hear a happy story from someone who actually lived in a local basement suite. Particularly if it was outside of the best Westside neighbourhoods.

    • I lived in one in East Van, the price was right and lots of space. Full access to garden, LLs like good friends.

      In many ways basement suites are a good way of keeping us connected with those we would otherwise not know. In a City of strangers it is in some ways a good thing; in a town renowned for its individuality consider the alternative.

  5. Froogle Scott

    Most houses in Vancouver don’t have true basements like houses in many other parts of the country. The reason is that the frost line here is not very deep. A few inches deep, perhaps. So you don’t have to excavate much to get below the frost line, which building codes typically require to protect foundations from frost heave. Excavating costs money, so house builders typically only do as much as is required. And basements are always problematic when it comes to keeping out moisture. They’re a liability. So, if you don’t really need one, why bother?

    The typical Vancouver Special has no basement, but rather uses a “slab on grade” — a concrete slab poured on the ground. I think the Vancouver building code now requires that there are perimeter foundation walls that extend down to a footing on the hardpan, usually about 3 feet down, but then the space inside the perimeter walls is typically backfilled with sand or gravel and the slab is poured on top. If the lot is flat, the result is a ground floor that you can walk straight into from the front or the back. And the ground floor is drier and brighter than a true basement, although that slab may be really cold if it isn’t insulated, or finished with a subfloor on top.

    Maybe true basements are becoming more popular now in Vancouver because they do give extra square footage for a rental suite, without gobbling up more of the lot (i.e., keep the footprint of the house within certain bounds), and allow for full-height ceilings in the basement without going past the overall height limit for two-storeys + basement?

    • Hi Scott, yes this is roughly correct. A builder friend of mine, FWIW, thinks the Vancouver code allows for a better quality construction than other munis, most notably Richmond where it’s basically slab due to water table issues. There are definite extra costs in excavation and below-grade foundations.

      I think the issue many raise here, which is in my view a valid point, is that for families earning close to median income to afford a larger space in Vancouver it pretty much means taking on tenants to make the numbers work. It’s a bit odd, when compared to other cities, is all. It is definitely causing some families to move away from Vancouver; many simply don’t want to, and don’t have the time to, bother with tenants.

      • Froogle Scott

        Yeah, the whole basement suite/tenant thing. I lived in a basement suite years ago, and on one occasion woke up with a huge spider bite on my cheekbone. Another time, ironing a shirt, I discovered I was sharing the ironing board with a massive wolf spider.

        Now we’re the landlords, and the tenants live beneath us — in a ground-floor suite that I’m confident is 99.9% spider proof. Just had a switchover of tenants, nothing major to fix, but just painting, cleaning, and dealing with general wear-and-tear chewed up all my spare time for a month and left me exhausted. The kind of thing realtors don’t mention when they throw around that “mortgage helper” catchphrase.

        I can understand people not wanting to bother with running a rental suite. It’s certainly not the ideal situation. We’ll probably get sick of it eventually, and hopefully the numbers will work for us by then so we can look at other options.

  6. What can ‘Nem’ say?… Other than… A DayInTheLife of a Troglodyte YVR ‘MortgageHelper’ is best enjoyed vicariously…

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