From Azure Magazine
SvN Managing Principal, Drew Sinclair, contributes “In Praise of the Urban Balcony” to Azure Magazine. The article makes a case for rethinking our outdoor spaces—particularly balcony design—which have become a lifesaver to many in the era of COVID-19 and a generally untapped boon.
Typically a time of optimism, spring is also the most liminal of seasons, when the cold of winter slowly folds into the heat of summer. It is an intermediary period, a threshold. And as we quarantine at home this year in a sort of prolonged COVID-19 hibernation, the excitement of stepping through that threshold into the outdoors has been replaced with an unmistakable ache for many, especially those without access to quality private outdoor space. While a lucky few have backyards to occupy or rural landscapes to roam, many of us in urban centres are having to navigate sub-standard (or non-existent) outdoor realms.
Just a few months ago, we could never have imagined the importance of these spaces, including that most underappreciated and often underused urban amenity: the balcony. But as those now iconic scenes coming out of Italy have shown, the ability to connect with the outside world and to interface with our neighbours relies on the presence, quality and ingenuity of the platforms we inhabit as well as the views from one balcony to another. In my home country of Canada and elsewhere, however, the occupants of many high-rise towers (not to mention those in basement apartments) aren’t afforded the opportunity to breathe fresh air and to engage with their community at a safe and comfortable distance.
Somewhere along the line, the way we use and value these spaces transformed. Outdoor rooms or courtyards (distinct from gardens) have been employed since antiquity. Historically, these private or semi-private spaces fulfilled critical functions such as cooking, working or sleeping, allowing for both contemplation and socializing. They were considered the most private and most secure spaces in a home. Fast forward to today and our notion of these spaces has deteriorated into an overly idealized one. People romanticize how they will use a balcony or terrace, but seldom do; in turn, such features have devolved into a box-checking exercise for developers and buyers without much consideration to how they could be improved for utility and economy. The sad result is diminutive outdoor space that far too often becomes storage for bikes and boxes.