The last eighteen months have been some of the most difficult times experienced for the whole nation since the second world war. The limitations placed on people’s movements, the sudden transition to homeworking/home-schooling and the three lockdowns have resulted in people spending more time at home than ever before.
The mental and physical effects
Living in a house with a garden or yard means that the option of spending time outside is always available. The ease of opening the door and stepping outside into the fresh air is one that perhaps most people have often taken for granted.
With the government encouraging people to ‘stay at home’ it has been particularly difficult for those whose home is in a high-rise apartment block. Frequent access to the outdoors has been extremely limited and the lack of indoor space has often been problematic. Not always having somewhere to just ‘get away’ from the rest of the family or even sit outside as had implications for mental health.
The closure of public places has meant that people who have regularly walked or attended a gym have remained safely indoors.
Certainly not unique to living in a high rise, but people living alone have described themselves as becoming depressed and isolated by not being able to see their relatives and friends, and families have described ‘cabin fever’ as they have been cooped up inside in a small living space with their school-age children for long periods. The fear that life may carry on like this forever has been one that has been causing anxiety too.
Balconies have been bringing people together
Though the impact of high-rise lockdown could at first be considered to be a wholeheartedly negative experience, this is not often the case. It has resulted in a lot of positive experiences too. It has also brought people together; a sense of community has been developed and new friendships have flourished across balconies. Neighbours who have never normally talked to each other, other than a quick ‘hello’ on their way to work, have been talking to each other from the safety of their own balconies.
In Italy where a large majority of the nation live in apartments and high rises, community spirit has never been more evident. People have been getting together (albeit separately) on their balconies to join in with singing, watch neighbours performing opera and even partake in exercise classes on their respective balconies. Although strange times. People are embracing them and making the best of them and the functions that balconies offer has been evolving. What was once just an architectural element has now become a social platform and an exclusive gate to the outside world and it’s fresh air that has been taken for granted previously but now more important than ever since we have lost access to public outside spaces over the last year.
How will the lockdowns influence balcony design?
What the pandemic and subsequent lockdowns have given us is the opportunity to really think about how we use our space. Balconies and communal outside spaces have often been poorly designed, absent or considered an afterthought in the design of new developments. The design of balconies is going to change. Juliet balconies which can accommodate only one person and no opportunities for seating will become a thing of the past and we will see more cantilevered balconies ensuring shade and protection as well as a space for sitting, interacting and enjoying the outside space, which a larger well thought out design can bring.
Bringing plant life and closer interaction with nature will no doubt be considered more in the future in the design of both developments as a whole and balconies themselves. Check out EDEN, a residential tower in Singapore, where innovative shell-shaped balconies are home to tropical gardens on four sides of the development.
It is hopeful that the lockdowns were and are short-term sacrifices in order to return to normality in the long term. With the vaccination programme now having covered well over 60% of adults so far, it is looking incredibly positive for the future.