Sam Kee Building: World's Narrowest Office Building

Nov 30, 2015 0 comments

The Sam Kee Building, located on 8 West Pender Street in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, is recorded in the Guinness Book of Records as the shallowest commercial building in the world. The six-foot-wide structure is easy to miss because it looks like the front of the larger building behind, to which it is attached.

The property was originally owned by the highly successful Chinese merchant Chang Toy, who was known in the Caucasian community as Sam Kee. Toy had purchased the standard sized lot in 1902 at the corner of Carrall and Pender street. In 1912, however, the municipal government made the decision to widen the road, and a large portion of Toy’s property was expropriated making commercial use of the remaining frontage impractical. When his demands at compensation were not met, Chang Toy erected a two-story commercial building in the available land in protest.


Photo credit: Can Pac Swire/Flickr

Reports on how much Chang Toy received in compensation is conflicting, but the consensus was that he was not properly compensated for the property value. The incident was also seen as an affront to the Chinese Canadians and a representative of the cultural injustices and disrespect the early Asian immigrants had to experience in the hands of the civic authorities. Fuelled by spite, Chang Toy hired architects Brown and Gillam to design a building to fit the remaining property.

The steel-framed Sam Kee Building is a fully functioning commercial structure with a ground floor measuring only 4’11’’. The second floor is augmented by overhanging bay windows that projects over the sidewalk, increasing the second-floor’s width to 6 feet. The basement extends as far again beneath the sidewalk. The building originally had retail shops on the ground floor while the upper floor was used for residential units. The basement contained public baths and barber chairs serving the Chinese community. It was falsely rumored that the basement was connected to other neighboring basements via tunnels, enabling residents to gather under the Sam Kee Building for illegal activities.

The Sam Kee Building is recognized by the Guinness Book of Records as the thinnest commercial building in the world. The building is also historically significant not only for its architectural design, but the role it played in the development and heritage conservation of Chinatown. It has been restored twice, once in 1966 and then again in 1986. The building is currently owned by a well known businessman named Jack Chow who played a key role in the revitalization of Chinatown.

In recent years the building’s status as thinnest commercial building has been challenged by the "Skinny Building" in Pittsburgh. The dispute arises around the fact the Sam Kee Building's width varies from floor to floor, while Pittsburgh's "Skinny Building" is 5'2" wide on all floors.


Photo credit: Paul R/Panoramio


Green paint denotes entire width of building. Photo credit:


The stairs inside Sam Kee Building. Photo credit: Frank Fujimoto/Flickr


Inside Sam Kee Building. Photo credit:


Photo credit: Bobanny/Wikimedia

Sources: Wikipedia / Canada's Historic Places / Spacing Vancouver


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