To go by-law or to say simply, “bye, laws!”

All jokes and puns aside, city by-laws are a crucial part of any qualified designer’s career and certainly any negligence towards them can result in catastrophic consequences.

It’s not always that, as a student, we get a chance to grasp what by-laws mean for us as soon to be designers. Afterall, school has certainly never restricted us when we wanted to design a 25m cantilever over a beautiful escarpment.

So, taking the time to actually understand how it works, what it affects, and when to refer to it, no matter how tedious or boring (as I can only imagine how taxing it is), is something we as future designers know sooner, than later.

Luckily in Ontario, access to the series of building codes are easily accessible online. In fact, for those of you who are interested, they are located here.

Keep in mind, however, by-laws are a general blanket terminology that can include zoning, traffic, even pet related regulations.

It is equally important to be aware that each city has different laws. For example, you may be able to build a 25 storey glass structured condo here in Toronto but up in Newmarket, along the green belt? Not a chance.

The city of Toronto actually has a very comprehensive database of guidelines to better city streets, parks and most importantly city specific by-laws for building, and construction.


What is it for & why should I bother?


It makes sure that whatever is being built, renovated, or changed won’t cause any detrimental effects to its surroundings. Plus, it ensures designs are always accessible to all, as it should be.

Secondly, and this is very logical, the by-laws are there because they are proven to yield the best results in what is standard practice which also means comfort and familiarity. I don’t know about you, but I rather like that the standard hallway width always allows two people to walk by comfortably and not awkwardly face to face shimmying to get through. (True story, in Hong Kong, where space is ultra limited)


Working at an urban design office this term, Toronto’s zoning by-laws have never been more relevant to my daily reading ever. It makes sure that whatever program a development lot will possess in the future won’t suddenly change and impact the neighbourhood. I mean, would you want to live in a two storey detached house right next to a meat processing factory? I would hope not.


I know what you’re thinking, all this talk about by-laws and you still may not see how it literally can affect your design that isn’t for its benefit, ie. safe guard rail heights or corridor widths as mentioned. One particular by-law that is visually impacting how a city (especially in Toronto) is growing is the “angular plane” design rule. Also in the feature image which is an elevation of The Code Condos, designed by Hariri Pontarini Architects.




This is where you can start to thank your high school teachers for actually teaching you math that is life applicable. Remember good old SOH CAH TOA? Angular plane basically means from the lot line of the adjacent property at 45 degrees angle will dictate the height of your building at said points. This results in those terrace buildings becoming more common. Of course, this often isn’t the only rule that will apply. This could include a minimum set back, a maximum frontage length, or even a maximum podium height. In the end, the building project may have so many restrictions that you find the project has pretty much defined itself.



Toronto’s Liberty Village apartments



What is the final verdict?

 It’s clear. As architects, designers, builders, or contractors, we strive to make the city a more accessible, coherent, and interesting place to live, work and play. Regardless that it will have to be strictly under the jurisdiction of city and provincial by-laws, it should not and will not limit the dedication to designing places and cities that work! So, there’s no goodbyes to by-laws, accept them into the challenge, and design on!