The coronavirus pandemic and consequently the lockdown have changed the way we work, the way we live and the way our spaces are organised. One of the features that gained popularity and importance overnight is the balcony. From #balcony stories to balcony TV, that small piece of space launched careers and kept us entertained in very difficult times. The more functional balconies were good enough to make our isolation a more rewarding and less claustrophobic experience.
Construction engineer Ronald Atwiine explains that not all balconies are big enough to actually be functional. He says they are generally built in three sizes. On the smaller end are Juliet “faux” balconies that are just big enough for one person to stand, then there are those that are slightly bigger although they are not big enough to accommodate chairs and then, there are full-sized balconies that run roughly six feet deep and can comfortably fit tables and chairs, and maybe even a garden of sorts.
Balconies can be more than a space to store things and brief entertaining but an extension of interior living. They also have other benefits such as improving the aesthetics and are believed to have a positive effect on mental health that makes living in urban settings more enjoyable.
The size of the balcony is usually due to the property owner’s need to maximise space. “Because of the cost of land, especially in urban centres, landlords would rather cram as many apartments that have bigger internal spaces in a lot instead of spacious balconies,” the engineer notes. But as the world’s perspective on what is required from living spaces changes, property owners who want to have an edge will do better to take note of this very desirable feature and make the most of it.
Changes to meet needs
James Katongole, a property owner, is currently remodelling his apartments after getting consistent requests from his tenants. Although all his apartments had balconies, some of his tenants wanted them modified in ways that could accommodate their individual needs. One of the things they needed was providing a form of enclosure to afford a form of privacy. “Because families were spending more time reading, playing, eating and even praying on their balconies than their living rooms, they needed some form of shield that would protect them from public view without cutting off access to fresh air and sunlight,” Katongole shares.
Tinted glass style
His contractor advised him to cover up with tinted glass that would allow the people inside to see outside while blocking view from the outside. They also put windows that would be opened or closed according to the tenants’ preference. His tenants are now able to sunbathe and lounge on their balconies without prying eyes. The property owner says this experience has taught him to pay more attention to how he builds his apartments in the future.
Joseph Omoding had lived in his dimly lit apartment for three years but he never felt this disadvantage until the lockdown. “The first two weeks were the worst; it felt as if I was living in a tunnel. I either had to leave the lights on or step out to the balcony for air and light,” Omoding recounts.
Because Omoding loves everything about his apartment apart from the lighting situation, he suggested to his landlord to break down the walls of his living room to let in light. By breaking down the wall, Omoding’s balcony became part of his living room. “My house feels and looks bigger and I get all the air and light I need. I don’t mind that my front door opens right on the balcony, I feel less trapped,” he shares.
Another post pandemic feature that has been brought to light is the positioning of balconies. Where balconies were once considered only beneficial for occupants, the pandemic has shown that they serve greater purposes. We have learned that they can become platforms for community support and social connection. In the last few months, people all over the world have used their balconies to send massages of hope and gratitude to each other.
People have been able to communicate and entertain each other from the safety of their balconies. Such feats would not have been possible if the balconies had not been positioned the way they are.
These lessons from the pandemic show that balcony uses have evolved and there is need to elevate the importance of these wonderful spaces in construction plans in the coming years.