When in Dubai many years ago, I was gobsmacked by the spectrum of balcony designs in its old town. In fact, balconies were the signature design feature of the streetscape.
Since then, I have often taken photos of buildings with interesting balconies, but haven’t done anything with them, until recently when a colleague suggested it would be an interesting subject.
So I gathered up some of my photos (unfortunately I don’t have any of the Dubai photos), did a little research and made balconies the subject of my November Condoscape column for Condo Living magazine.
Theory vs Reality
In theory, a balcony is like the front porch of a house, a place to sit and watch the world go by. It is an outdoor living/dining room where you can read, nap, chat, listen to music, browse on the laptop and even BBQ a gourmet meal. It can even be your outdoor office space for part of the year.
Yet in reality, in Calgary it is often too windy or too cold to do the above very often. Or, if your balcony faces south or west, it can be too hot and too sunny to be out on the balcony. You can’t win!
Private vs Common Area
Many first-time condo owners think the balcony is their private space. However, in most condos it is considered “common space” as it is maintained by the condo association, which means there are rules about what can and can’t be on the balcony. Read your condo bylaws.
In Calgary, the balcony is not a place to hang your clean laundry, unlike in Europe where you often see clothes neatly hung out to dry, creating a charm to the streetscape – in my opinion. Something often lacking in our sterile North American urban landscapes.
So, what makes for a good balcony?
Not so deep as to prevent sunlight entering the apartment below.
Large enough to comfortably accommodate least two chairs, small table and a BBQ.
Screens and/or wall to filter sunlight and wind, as well as privacy.
Located away from noisy equipment and garbage areas.
Did You know…
Balconies are a requirement in Calgary’s Land Use Bylaw. However, the City will relax this requirement if there are adequate equal common amenity area either inside or outside.
Balconies can contribute to the safety of the street as the people on them are eyes on the street.
“Overlooking” from balconies is a big issue for adjacent neighbours living in single-family homes in inner-city condo development. Bruce McKenzie VP Operations at NORR’s Calgary’s office said, “the City is encouraging semi-recessed balconies on most urban sites. This provides some sheltering and to some extent discourages overlooking.”
Types of balconies
A recessed balcony is one that is set into the building’s façade, rather than jutting out from it. Some think recessed balconies are best because they provide better privacy and better protection from the weather. Some also like the sleek look they give the façade of the building.
A cantilevered balcony hangs out over the side of the building, exposing it to the wind, rain and snow. From round to square, rectangular to triangular, the shape and repetition of the balcony adds a texture and pattern, that contributes to the distinct aesthetic statement of the building.
A Romeo & Juliet balcony is just railings attached to the outside of the building with in-swing doors or sliders.
Look at any condo anytime and you rarely see anyone out on the balcony. So why do they have them? In a winter city, wouldn’t it make more sense to have that space inside the condo where it would be useable year-round?
Apparently not. In chatting with a few condo dwellers, they all love their balconies, keeping heaters and blankets close by so they can use them as much as possible.
Several architects and developers indicated large balconies are a big selling feature, helping to differentiate one condo project from another. Although, I was also told shared roof-top patios are quickly becoming the “in-thing” for outdoor living of condo dwellers.
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