Why balconies are underutilised by occupiers
Although naturally designed to enhance relaxation, ventilation and beauty amid breaking continuous walls, the concept of balcony designs in buildings is seen to have become underutilised spaces in homes due to the dynamics of the socio-economic situation working against their original purpose.
Essentially, balconies are an elevated platform that extends from the walls of a building and connect the interior spaces with the outdoor areas of buildings. It could be attached to any of the rooms in a house as well as connect more than two spaces to provide a useable space outside the property.
Findings revealed that in cities like Lagos, Abuja and other big urban centres, having the extra space in household is often overlooked due to increasing rate of population, and daily pressures of life-limiting time for relaxation in those places.
Expounding on the issue the President, Nigerian Institute of Building, (NIOB), Kunle Awobodu said the original reason for incorporating balcony in building design is almost turning to be a waste as evident among current dispensation of occupants in the use of balcony in certain locations.
He explained, “The primary objectives of balcony are to provide occupant a commanding view of the surroundings while sitting down and where they could easily project their body, for relaxation and fresh air. What we are seeing these days is that many buildings that have balconies don’t make use of them anymore based on their principal purpose of balcony in buildings. Maybe because people will go to work from morning to night and hardly have time to converge. The tendency now is that people and families don’t fancy going to sit at balconies to advertise their presence maybe for security and privacy. The purpose of balcony has been defeated”.
Awobodu observed that balcony in buildings has become an entrance for burglars in recent times for the invaders to gain access to buildings and that is why some people now put grille or burglary proof to balcony for further secure and guarantee protection for children who might come there to play.
“If you have travelled to countries like the United States of America, they always have escape doors in case of fire and other emergencies as different from the role of balcony which some people have said serve that same role. Using balcony for the purpose of laundry is abnormal and against the original purposes. In many residential, it’s part of management regulations that people shouldn’t dry clothes on balcony because it would become an eyesore to buildings and that is the reason for not putting balcony by some people in tenanted homes. The underutilisation could also be due to a situation whereby people spend their entire life looking for their daily bread and no time to use the balcony even at weekends”, he said.
Former President, Nigerian Institute of Architects, Tony Braide said the desirability and underutilisation of balcony depends on the economic bracket of the family. For the upper economic bracket, he said balconies form a point of convergence for private interaction at different levels of buildings.
He said from the architecture point of view, balconies to some extend are still important as a point of convergence and a point for mini-clothe drier to take care of some intimate laundry, be in touch with nature without putting so much pressure on the ground footprint because when land is becoming expensive and a person wants to do some affordable housing, the footprint should meet the maximum limit the planning authority would give.
“Balcony is an element of social distancing where you could have eye contacts with neighbours without necessarily shaking of hands. Without the balcony, people will have to come downstairs in vertical development. It’s not something we can eliminate but it has to be secured because of small children. What happens in the event of increasing population competing for the limited land spaces is that people on the alternative could do terracing design and architects need to be more imaginative.
“There are other methods through which we could get ventilation into buildings beyond balconies which haven’t been explored. Within a building, you could have an internal shaft even when your room has one window, air could still flow through the building and keep the room cool and lift mechanism could also be used”.
Corroborating Braide, another architect, Mr Enyi Ben Eboh said despite apprehensions, balconies served certain functions which can’t be outdated despite concerns due to peculiar situation in the country where people see balcony as a weak spot where intruders could come into the house rather than a place for relaxation adding that the issue of insecurity would be a passing phase in the country.
“What we now see is to put burglary everywhere in balcony and it has now become a chain rather than what it was meant to be. Balconies serve some services like for air conditioners that have indoor and outdoor units for easy maintenance. If you look at major cities of the world, they build vertically and you could have an apartment of eight floors because of the scarcity of land with small balconies”.
He stated that overlooking balconies in buildings by families is not about the scarcity of land but adapting to changing circumstance of the moment in some parts of the country.
A former Chairman, Nigerian Society of Engineers, Apapa Branch, Dr. Garba Ombugadu on his part said every building has its own design and the major reason for balconies is for ventilation and access as well as access.
“Sometimes, it is very necessary to put balconies in homes so that when there is such emergence need people can easily go through for safety issues. Under standard safety procedure, every home should have a rope at the back of the building tied to a pillar or any rigid surface for people to easily slide down when a building is engulfed by fire.”
However, he said, “With the advance in technology and evolvement of new building designs every day, balcony has its relevance when it comes to building. Living in a city like Lagos, you are out and your children are out too. I pity students these days because some of them hardly come home until around six in the evening and so which time would you have for the balcony?”
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