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The evolution of the balcony: A public and private space that delivers some stunning options

The evolution of the balcony: A public and private space that delivers some stunning options
The evolution of the balcony: A public and private space that delivers some stunning options

As more people live in apartments there’s a greater focus on balconies.

In urban environments it’s clear that there’s demand for outdoor space, both private and public. For inner city apartment dwellers access to both is important and the market is responding.

The balcony has for some time now been seen as an extra living room and is starting to become as important as the kitchen or living room. Buyers are increasingly more alert to a balcony’s aspect, whether it’s sunny or in the shade, is the balcony private, a good space to have a coffee, a wine or a meal or just sit and watch the clouds fly buy.

As apartments are getting smaller, buyers see this area as a place to relax after work, an important extension of their living space. Reflecting this trend there’s also a big increase in the variety and quality of furnishing that’s available to enhance the balcony space, it’s now very fashionable.

As more detailed attention is being paid to outdoor space in development projects, what are some of the key points to consider and are there any pitfalls?

I previously suggested the idea of thinking about balconies from three aspects – pets, plants and people. I if all three thrive then the balcony must be pretty well designed. From a down to earth view I think buyers will also consider – access, climate, privacy, views, services, storage and the environment.

Access is really important. Possibly the most popular layouts allow an apartment’s internal and external spaces to merge together to give the owner one big space. And another plus is when multiple rooms have balcony access. These designs are very different from those of the 1960s and 70s when you might have only been able to squeeze through one single door to the balcony.

Climate is another big issue. For the space to be comfortable to use all year round the design needs to pay attention to climate, so the space is not too hot, not wet or a spot where you’ll be blown off your feet in the wind. These points are common sense, but should not be overlooked otherwise valuable space for any buyer can be compromised. Covered north-facing are great, but not every apartment can have just one aspect and so this is why planning now takes the function of the balcony into account.

Views are also important. As areas have to accommodate more density, we need to consider how a view works in terms of privacy. The use of external shutters both fixed and movable designs are now commonly used and they do help to make balcony spaces much more inviting and private. I know that off the plan buyers are always keen to fully understand the views from their balcony – it’s an area that gets a lot of their attention.

As balconies are becoming more a part of daily living space then they need to have good services, drainage, electricity, gas and water and something that is less common, storage. However all these services have not always been provided. Trying to get the best use of a balcony can be limited if there’s no water or gas supply.

Today’s buyers have become very alert to having these basic service items. And while storage, in particular storage cupboards, are not common it’s a good idea and it can help to keep balcony areas tidy and presentable.

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But There Can Be Some Areas Of Conflict

Thinking of tidy balconies, with all of the pluses associated with these spaces, they can also become areas of conflict and this does place greater pressure on owners, strata managers and the body corporate.

Clothes drying, smoking, storage and the humble BBQ can be areas of conflict. Smoking on balconies remains an issue and stronger rules and restrictions are possibly on their way with the stalled review of NSW strata laws.

With higher energy costs and greater environmental awareness, to many it is reassuring that balconies can be used to hang out the washing. Yes, there are rules and limits and so privacy shutters can come in handy. However, this is another area where legislation is lagging and rules are up for clarification.

Private and Public Space in Demand

In almost every city there is demand for things outdoors, be that a balcony for a new Sydney apartment, a roof top pocket garden in London or Paris, or a few square metres of outdoor space attached to a New York apartment.

The quest for private outdoor space is always there, even in a booming real estate market. While a stunning city or harbour view might be out of reach for the average buyer, securing a private outdoor space is always ticked as a desirable option, space for a deck chair and a spot for al fresco dining is clearly a shared aspiration.

So far I have been looking at the importance of private space for the average apartment owner that’s a balcony and how the everyday use and design of this important space is evolving. But there is another aspect to this subject and that is access to public and communal space.

In areas where there is major development, we see what a positive impact new parks and open spaces have. Good examples include Brisbane’s now well established South Bank and soon in Sydney Barangaroo’s Headland Park will be a new public space covering six-hectares of harbour foreshore park. While it will be a space for the entire city it’s a good example of what we now expect from our public parks with space for all sorts of daily recreation, grassed areas, lookouts, walking and cycle paths, and a new harbour cove.

Then much further afield we have perhaps the ultimate example of a modern urban public space in Singapore’s Gardens By The Bay, supported by a huge capital investment and run with the assistance of 10,000 hours of volunteer labour. While in Philadelphia a new 5000 square metre mega roof garden is taking shape as part of a new development there.

There’s no shortage of evidence that as more of us are now apartment dwellers, private and public outdoor space is very important and the humble balcony is transforming as a public space and delivers some stunning options.

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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