Do away with balconies

Accessories brighten up the space in a refurbished balcony. (PHOTO: COURTESY)

You want to buy, rent or build a house and you’ve seen a particular design with a very nice and large balcony that you like. If you are buying or renting, the seller has even used the balcony as a selling point.

If you’re building, you’ve chosen the design with the best balconies. But do you know that these balconies are a waste of money and resources?


If you were to state how you would use the balconies, on what occasions and how often, you would start to see this. A balcony that opens from a bedroom is technically only usable by the occupier of that bedroom.

No one would appreciate people trooping past their beds just to access the balcony. Consequently, that balcony would most likely be used by one person and only when they want to stretch outside or perhaps read a book on a seat out there.

If the balcony is accessible from a corridor or family room perhaps the usage would be slightly more. However, it would still be minimal.

Balconies end up being used as storage spaces for furniture and any broken equipment.


The only element that misses when building a balcony is walling, which is usually replaced by railing. A balcony has a floor slab made of sand, cement, ballast and steel bars, as well as floor finishes which are mostly tiles or mazeras. And most of the times roofing, which comprises timber, roofing material, ceiling materials. Simply, the amount of money that goes into building a balcony is immense; it almost equals a livable space within the house, and yet the benefits are little.

What are the options?

The best option I usually advise my clients who are building their own homes is the use of French windows. These are windows that are full height, reaching the floor and they can be operated as doors. One can still use aluminium or steel casement and make them either side hang or sliding. Since these windows can fully open, we place railings either on the inside or even outside and at a minimal distance of say 300 milimetres. What this does is make the room with the window have an indoor outdoor feel, since by just opening the window you’ll have that feel of being outside.


One thing I know some people are wondering about is aesthetics. Do buildings with balconies look better than those without? Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder, and no one knows that as much as architects.

You can haggle with a client trying to describe to him the principles of design that led you to design his house in a certain way, but all he wants and insists on is say: “I want the roof to be seen.”

However, with good design, you can achieve a beautiful house without building a single balcony.

— The writer is an architect