Homes and gardens

The evolution of the balcony


Anupama Mohanram looks at how the architectural feature has developed across regions

A balcony is an interesting architectural feature seen in homes and establishments all over the world, especially in tropical regions.

The word ‘balcony’ has references in multiple languages — ‘balcone’ in Italian (referring to a scaffold), ‘balcho’ in German and ‘balkaneh’ in Persian. In all instances the term refers to a platform that projects out from a building’s façade and is enclosed by parapet, sometimes supported by a post below.

Back in time

The earliest balconies were seen over a thousand years ago in ancient Greece. Back then, it was assumed they were purely functional in nature: to allow light and ventilation into the structure.

In Rome, balconies on public buildings were used by leaders to address large gatherings. For instance, the Pope periodically delivers his blessing from the large balcony at the centre of St. Peter’s Cathedral. In Islamic countries the call for prayer is usually from atop the balcony of a minaret.

Over time, other than being functional, the space has evolved into an important aesthetic element, adding charm and a sense of unique identity to buildings.

Unique adaptations

Another variation of the balcony, ‘mashrabiya’, is seen in traditional Arabic architecture.

Commonly known as the ‘oriel’ or ‘bay’ window, it has been used for many years and continues to be seen in homes today.

It’s differentiating factor is that it is a projecting window enclosed with carved latticework and framed with stained glass. These features make a room appear larger, provide views of the outdoors while still maintaining privacy.

Its Indian variation, the jharoka, was a distinctive feature of medieval Indian architecture. Widely seen in the palaces, temples and havelis of Rajasthan, it was also prominently used in Indo-Islamic architecture. The style of the jharokha varied across regions and depended on local materials, construction techniques and cultural, climatic conditions.

Cut to today

At present, the balcony is still an active part of our architecture albeit less detailed. It lets in natural light and ventilation when oriented right, and shades and protects our main walls from outdoor heat.

The element thereby acts as an important feature to ensure environmental sustainability in our buildings.

The author is the founder of Green Evolution, a sustainable architecture firm

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Printable version | Dec 12, 2019 2:47:56 AM |

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