Hold on to your knobs while you still can. Humanity is about to embark on an era of doorknob prohibition, and it's all starting in Vancouver, Canada.
Look at any door in your immediate vicinity; there's a good chance it's bearing a classic doorknob beloved by utilitarians and highly specific enthusiasts alike. In Vancouver, they're about to become a dying breed. This past September, the city's council amended its building code — the only city-specific building code in all of Canada — to mandate lever handles and lever taps only.
Don't kiss your knobs goodbye just yet though. While all new construction projects will be required to follow the no-knob mandate, all buildings currently standing will have their knobs grandfathered in. But this pro-lever movement isn't about mere aesthetics; there's something more important at play — a developing concept known as universal design.
As Tim Stainton, a professor and director of the School of Social Work at the University of British Columbia, told the Vancouver Sun, the movement focuses on the idea of a society that's as physically accessible as possible:
Basically, the idea is that you try to make environments that are as universally usable by any part of the population. The old model was adaptation, or adapted design. You took a space and you adapted for use of the person with a disability. What universal design says is let's turn it around and let's just build everything so it is as usable by the largest segments of the population as possible.
A really simple version is the cut curbs on every corner. That helps elderly people, people with visual impairments, mums with strollers. It makes a sidewalk that could otherwise be difficult for parts of the population universally accessible.
In fact, the Americans with Disabilities Act's (ADA) guidelines for small businesses explicitly emphasises the problems with inaccessible door hardware and goes on to recommend the most universally accessible option: the lever.
Because Vancouver is the smallest sector of Canada that has its own building code, ideas that come to fruition there are often pushed out into the BC Building Code and, eventually, Canada's National Building Code. And at that point, it's not at all unlikely to expect the lever law to start making its way down towards the US.
As the ADA's guidelines prove, universality of design is hugely important in creating a world of equal opportunity. So though we'll still be able to keep our precious knobs for the time being, let's hope for everyone's sake that, one day, we'll all be telling our grandchildren tale of the great doorknobs of yesteryear. [The Vancouver Sun, ADA.gov]