May, 2009 – The balcony offers us a space to reconnect with the outside world, a space for us to reach upwards toward the sky or downwards toward the action on the street, a space where our creativity isn’t held within the confines of four cornered rooms, and most importantly, a space to simply relax.
The balcony resting off the edge of my room in Buenos Aires isn’t long enough for a hammock or wide enough for a table and chair but it provides me with a sanctuary to pause and reflect, to escape the action of the student residence, and to observe the ballet of the street below.
On my very first morning in Buenos Aires, I was awakened by the loud sounds of horns, drums and a cheering crowd. From my balcony, I looked down the street to see the president delivering a speech in front of the congress building with a procession of horses, soldiers, fancy cars and all the extravagance of the event passing just beneath my balcony. I had front row seats.
In the older neighborhoods of Buenos Aires, balconies are designed for beauty rather than utility. Delicate balconies paint the sides of older buildings, creating a charming and graceful urban wall. These thin stand-in-balconies are often modestly decorated leaving the elegance of the original building untouched. With just enough room to stand, these balconies provide only a cursory connection to the outside world.
In wealthier parts of town, balconies are often larger and can be outfitted with tables, chairs, plants and all sorts of little decorations to create a more comfortable social space. In the poorer regions of the city, balconies are still a standard feature, even upon boxy cement apartment buildings.
The balcony offers the comforts of a private space while still providing a connection to the outside world. In dense cities filled with apartment buildings, it can be hard for people to find a balance between private space and shared space. For urban neighborhoods with personal homes, the front porch and the immediate curb in front provide a semi-private and semi-social space that allows the community to interact and socialize upon the physical space of the neighborhood. This strengthens community relationships and builds an overall healthier neighborhood.
This wonderful opportunity for community interaction is lost in neighborhoods full of individual and isolated apartment buildings.
Neighborhoods stitched together with the threads of personal homes rather than apartment buildings offer completely different urban experiences. The personal home becomes a physical reflection of the people living within and thus a neighborhood full of private homes becomes the reflection of the community. Neighborhoods formed by a collection of apartment buildings lack this natural outward manifestation of the people living within. This creates a disconnection between the personality of the community and the personality of the physical built environment.
Much like ourselves, the built environment has a personality and it needs a space to express it.
The balcony provides a space for expression. The feel and the appearance of the balcony naturally assume the identity of the person who lives upon it. The exterior of an apartment building with balconies can be seen as a canvas painted by all the individual personalities of the people living within.
The proliferation of the balcony in the Buenos Aires urban environment was most likely inherited from European influences but the balcony has since manifested into an integral aspect of the Argentine physical and cultural world.
Other rooms in my student residence are blessed with bigger balconies and become the preferred social spaces during late night hangouts. These late night balcony hangouts are something I have grown to appreciate about my life at 86 Callao and something that has convinced me that a balcony is a must-have for apartment style living.