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Balconies are the new backyards

Balconies are the new backyards
Balconies are the new backyards

It does appear that most, if not all of us, crave some time outdoors.

Each year more than 20 million people visit Sydney’s Centennial Park, 36 million visit our National Parks and Sydney’s Botanic Gardens attract almost 4 million visitors.

Much of our recreation is associated with the outdoors and this naturally includes time in our own backyards. But the traditional backyard is changing, for many it is being replaced with a balcony. And so from a design and marketing perspective the move from backyard to balcony is now a core part of the apartment market, and the same can be said for shared or common space outdoor areas.

Balconies, terraces, roof decks and verandahs are not the invention of modern living or recent architecture. There were examples in ancient Mesopotamia, in Roman villas, and many Egyptian homes and palaces had roof gardens. Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet first performed around 1595 made one balcony very famous, in the 17th Century the word became common in the language of Italians, while much closer to home from the 1850s the verandah started to become an essential on many Australian homesteads.

That love affair with an outdoor space, so commonly attached to our homes, clearly stays with us today.

From Quarter Acre to 10 square metres Plus

In 1962, just as the birth of the last baby boomers was in sight, the social impact of more crowded cities was starting to impact and be seen in popular culture. ‘Up on the Roof’, a song by The Drifters, lists many of the cares we are very familiar with today.

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When the world starts to wear us down and the ‘rat-race noise down in the street’, means that we all need a place to escape and relax. It’s easy to identify why in a modern setting that the balcony has become such a central part of apartment living.

Today approximately one in four Australians live in apartments and in some cities that will soon be 50% of the population, in selected inner-city locations much more.

From the visitor figures I outlined earlier it is clear that we all need outdoor space, for many this space is now a balcony and these can range from seven to 10 square metres on a one bedroom apartment to a bigger space of 30-40 square metres or more and this can include several balconies. And while there may not be an upper limit as such, there is, as would be expected some general ratio between indoor and outdoor spaces, and without access to exact figures, that appears to sit around a ratio of between 12% and 30/40%.

Anyone marketing apartments today knows that buyers also pay great attention to the balcony area when looking at an off the plan purchase or when they inspect a finished product. Clearly this space is an essential part of their list of desirable or must have features, and what buyers look for in a balcony is now much more exacting. It is an extension of their living space and for many buyers this directly impacts the quality of life they are looking for.

The Ideal Balcony

Balconies, which are also greatly influenced by Australia’s climate, can be a difficult area of planning and design because the space is both private and public. This can create some areas of conflict, but first lets look at a balcony from a simple check list of the three ‘P’ – people, pets and plants.

The balcony needs to accommodate all three functions, the varied needs of people to have a place to relax in the sun, dine outdoors etc, and with pets being common place in most buildings they need to be considered, pet owners may want a safe spot for pets to spend their days. Many people like to have potted plants, or balcony gardens be that one or two plants or a productive ‘veggie patch’. This is not a definitive list but it does go some of the way to explaining why balcony design is so important, because buyer expectations of the balcony space have shifted and our climate dictates the space must be useable all year round.

Balcony space needs to address many issues such as access, climate, privacy, environmental concerns, storage, services and circulation, in fact the space could really be seen as a facsimile of the wider design and function of the apartment interior itself. This reinforces the central importance and value of the balcony in the eyes of today’s modern apartment buyer.

Peter Chittenden

Peter Chittenden

Peter Chittenden is managing director for residential of Colliers International.

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New Developments Peter Chittenden

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