2013-11-21

Ban The Knobs? The Doorknob Could End Up On The Scrap Heap Of History

Some people apparently struggle with doorknobs, and would benefit from a universal lever design. To those people, whoever you are: The city of Vancouver, which just banned doorknobs, is your oyster.

Are doorknobs set for history's garbage bin? This might sound like a strange question, but in Vancouver, they could be. In September, its council amended the city's building code to require lever-handles on all new doors and taps.

The rule won't apply to existing houses. But they are betting that knobs are on the way out, and "universal" door-opening devices are in. And now this precedent-setting development gets us wondering whether Vancouver's handle-reform could herald change across North America.

Writing in the Vancouver Sun, Jeff Lee explains that the city is making the change so as not to disadvantage certain groups who have a tough time with round knobs. Handles are easier and don't discriminate, he says:

Vancouver’s interest in door handles instead of knobs stems from a little-known but important and developing concept called universal design.

Tim Stainton, a professor and director of the School of Social Work at the University of B.C., says the concept is based around building a society as open as possible to everyone, rather than creating exceptions to fit a few.

We'd not heard that doorknobs are hard to use for certain groups. But there's lots we don't know. The new rules come in this March. And the city is already removing knobs from public buildings. Last year, it took away Art Deco specimens from City Hall, replacing them with "utilitarian gold-coloured levers."

Lee delves into the history of knobs, finding that the "first patent for pressing glass knobs by mechanical means was granted in 1824 to Pittsburgh’s John P. Bakewell." After that, it was one innovation after another, with "highly decorative and collectible knobs" reaching their zenith at the end of the century and before World War I.

He may just be a Vancouver booster, but Lee reckons that the city holds wide sway when it comes to building trends and that the council's amendment could be replicated elsewhere in Canada (and after Canada, the world!):

Vancouver is the only city in Canada with its own building code, so the changes made here are often chased into the [British Columbia] Building Code and Canada’s National Building Code, and then put into practice in cities and towns across Canada. Vancouver’s influence is wide. And as go the codes, so too goes the construction industry.

It seems a shame and all, but you can't hold back progress. And, as Will Johnston, Vancouver's former chief building inspector argues in the piece, there is a strong rationale for universal handles. "When I look at what we are proposing, it is simply good design. It allows for homes to be built that can be used more easily for everybody," he says.

[Image via Shutterstock]

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15 Comments

  • Samantha Johnston

    This is indeed a joy to read - I am not that old or weak, or disabled in anyway about 90% of my time and I am very grateful for this as I have had RA (Rheumatoid Arthritis) for the last 10 years. I am very lucky it does not affect my mostly but slowly and much to my annoyance it is getting worse over time. On bad days I struggle to open my bedroom door (door knobs.. aaaahhh) lovely old Victorian house lovely old Victorian door knobs - well made, robust and with my hands not wanting to do what I want them to do they become a total and complete utter nightmare!! I am 43.

  • ARRRGGGHH

    Completely stupid. They obviously don't know that children can easily open levers as opposed to knobs. So when small children wander out and get lost or hit by a car, will they be held responsible? They should be.

  • John

    It seems a shame and all, but you can't hold back progress. And, as Will Johnston, Vancouver's former chief building inspector argues in the piece, there is a strong rationale for universal handles. “When I look at what we are proposing, it is simply good design. It allows for homes to be built that can be used more easily for everybody,” he says.

  • Adams

    He may just be a Vancouver booster, but Lee reckons that the city holds wide sway when it comes to building trends and that the council's amendment could be replicated elsewhere in Canada (and after Canada, the world!):

  • Adams

    Are doorknobs set for history's garbage bin? This might sound like a strange question, but in Vancouver, they could be. In September, its council amended the city's building code to require lever-handles on all new doors and taps.

  • John

    He may just be a Vancouver booster, but Lee reckons that the city holds wide sway when it comes to building trends and that the council's amendment could be replicated elsewhere in Canada (and after Canada, the world!):

  • Rick Presley

    In the US, Americans with Disabilities Act mandates have driven all sorts of innovative designs that benefit everyone, not just the disabled. Nice to see that Vancouver recognizes this.

  • Adams

    The rule won't apply to existing houses. But they are betting that knobs are on the way out, and "universal" door-opening devices are in. And now this precedent-setting development gets us wondering whether Vancouver's handle-reform could herald change across North America.

  • johncoryat

    We've been changing out knobs for levers in our houses for decades. It is so much simpler to open a door when encumbered with parcels or children by using a lever than a knob. It is impossible to use a knob with your feet for instance. I vote YES for levers and NO for knobs.

  • Adams

    We'd not heard that doorknobs are hard to use for certain groups. But there's lots we don't know. The new rules come in this March. And the city is already removing knobs from public buildings. Last year, it took away Art Deco specimens from City Hall, replacing them with "utilitarian gold-coloured levers."

  • John

    In the US, Americans with Disabilities Act mandates have driven all sorts of innovative designs that benefit everyone, not just the disabled. Nice to see that Vancouver recognizes this.

  • Adams

    Lee delves into the history of knobs, finding that the "first patent for pressing glass knobs by mechanical means was granted in 1824 to Pittsburgh’s John P. Bakewell." After that, it was one innovation after another, with "highly decorative and collectible knobs" reaching their zenith at the end of the century and before World War I.