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New requirements for living, working, and learning at home due to Covid-19 have highlighted two fundamental needs in apartment housing: (1) adaptability to fit multiple functions in a limited area; and (2) access to private outdoor space to support residents' health and wellbeing, and to provide spatial and thermal variety in small units. The two needs may initially appear to be disconnected: when residents have a high demand for flexibility and adaptability in apartment housing, balconies tend to be overlooked as potential spaces to facilitate adaptability. An analysis of several international housing projects with innovative balcony designs and unit designs is the basis for the identification of several typologies of balconies. Typologies of adaptable balconies and examples are used to show how they may support housing adaptability within a dwelling. The 'adaptable balcony' concept is introduced in the context of multifamily housing design, together with a clear definition of active and passive adaptability by inhabitants. PRACTICE RELEVANCE Apartment balconies are often overlooked as design elements capable of influencing housing adaptability. This paper explores how adaptable balconies could support and improve residents' functional use of their dwellings. The ease of adaptability, how and to what degree residents can adapt their balcony spaces, are shown in built examples. The 'adaptable balcony' concept in the context of multifamily housing can provide developers, designers, and inhabitants with an enhanced, more flexible use of domestic spaces. Several typologies of adaptable balconies are identified and considered for how they may support housing adaptability within a dwelling. Two notions of passive and active adaptability in balcony design can help designers facilitate the desired levels of adaptability in a project.
Content may be subject to copyright.
Terri Peters
Department of Architectural
Science, Ryerson University,
Toronto, ON, CA
adaptability; balconies;
dwelling; flexible housing;
housing; multifamily
housing; social norms; spatial
adaptability; spatial use
Peters, T., & Masoudinejad, S.
(2022). Balconies as adaptable
spaces in apartment housing.
Buildings and Cities, 3(1),
pp. 265–278. DOI: https://doi.
Balconies as adaptable
spaces in apartment
New requirements for living, working, and learning at home due to Covid-19 have
highlighted two fundamental needs in apartment housing: (1) adaptability to fit multiple
functions in a limited area; and (2) access to private outdoor space to support residents’
health and wellbeing, and to provide spatial and thermal variety in small units. The two
needs may initially appear to be disconnected: when residents have a high demand for
flexibility and adaptability in apartment housing, balconies tend to be overlooked as
potential spaces to facilitate adaptability. An analysis of several international housing
projects with innovative balcony designs and unit designs is the basis for the identification
of several typologies of balconies. Typologies of adaptable balconies and examples are
used to show how they may support housing adaptability within a dwelling. The ‘adaptable
balcony’ concept is introduced in the context of multifamily housing design, together with
a clear definition of active and passive adaptability by inhabitants.
Apartment balconies are often overlooked as design elements capable of influencing
housing adaptability. This paper explores how adaptable balconies could support and
improve residents’ functional use of their dwellings. The ease of adaptability, how and
to what degree residents can adapt their balcony spaces, are shown in built examples.
The ‘adaptable balcony’ concept in the context of multifamily housing can provide
developers, designers, and inhabitants with an enhanced, more flexible use of domestic
spaces. Several typologies of adaptable balconies are identified and considered for how
they may support housing adaptability within a dwelling. Two notions of passive and
active adaptability in balcony design can help designers facilitate the desired levels of
adaptability in a project.
*Author affiliations can be found in the back matter of this article
266Peters and Masoudinejad
Buildings and Cities
DOI: 10.5334/bc.191
Covid-19 has highlighted the importance of adaptable homes. In particular, there is a need to
support the various kinds of users, needs, and lifestyles. Dwellings must now accommodate
multiple functions of living, working, schooling, socializing, and relaxing (Bettaieb & Alsabban
2021; Capolongo et al. 2020; D’Alessandro et al. 2020). Adaptable housing can also ease the
adjustment to major and long-term changes such as changes in family size, as the family
expands or contacts, or residents’ physical needs, in particular as they get older or lose their
mobility (Friedman 2002; Till & Schneider 2005). Moreover, adaptable housing can enable the
variation of the ratio of outdoor–indoor spaces to meet residents’ needs on a seasonal basis.
While adaptability, flexibility, changeability, and modifiability have been studied in buildings
generally (Gosling et al. 2013; Geraedts & Ruiterkamp 2017), these concepts need further study
in multifamily apartment housing. Furthermore, apartment balconies should be considered as
having a role in the unit’s adaptability.
Recent research on housing adaptability by Pelsmakers et al. (2020) advocated the adaptation
affordances at multiple scales including neighborhood-scale intervention. They argue for a
mixed-use building approach that is ‘loose fit’ at the building scale, and the provision for flexible,
multifunctional furniture in workspaces and residential environments for social activities. The
present paper extends their study, focusing on architectural examples of indoor–outdoor
connectivity by examining the role of balconies in housing adaptability. This focus is on two
fundamental needs that are typically overlooked relating to residents’ wellbeing in apartment
housing: (1) the adaptability to facilitate the varied activities and multiple functions required by
inhabitants in their increasingly smaller unit sizes; and (2) private outdoor space, i.e. balconies for
access to nature, restorative views, and psychological benefits such as prospect-refuge.
Balconies are often too small to use, serving merely as horizontal facade elements introduced
for visual variety in the building massing, rather than potential amenity spaces for resident use.
Noting that future designs should focus on quality of life and health in these habitats (Peters
& Kesik 2020), the present paper discusses the idea of the ‘adaptable balcony’, i.e. how more
thoughtfully designed balconies can contribute to spatial adaptability in apartment housing.
This paper examines ways that balcony designs have been integrated with housing adaptability.
First, challenges are identified in housing adaptability. Key terms and concepts in the literature are
explored for their implications for balconies and adaptability. An analysis of several international
housing projects with innovative balcony designs and unit designs is the basis for the identification
of a number of typologies of balconies. These typologies are considered for their capabilities
to support housing adaptability within a dwelling. The main contributions of this paper are the
framing of the ‘adaptable balcony’ concept in the context of multifamily housing design, and the
definitions and analysis of built examples in terms of balcony design and use.
Balconies are often a defining feature in new apartment housing, and their use and qualities vary
greatly from unit to unit and building to building. Balconies can positively impact residents’ health
and wellbeing. Based on the restorative theory (Kaplan 1995), numerous studies have shown
that contact with nature at home and natural outdoor living spaces in urban housing promote
health and wellbeing in residents (Masoudinejad & Hartig 2020; Tennessen & Cimprich 1995; Kuo
2013; Kennedy et al. 2015). However, current urban apartment housing does not offer restorative
experiences for residents (Peters & Halleran 2021) and the ‘nature’ aspects that people need for
restoration are almost entirely missing. A study exploring the impact of housing and the built
environment on mental health during the ongoing Covid-19 crisis revealed that those inhabitants
without a usable balcony, limited natural light, acoustic and temperature comfort, and absence
of plants displayed moderate-to-severe and severe depressive symptoms (Amerio et al. 2020).
Balconies can improve quality of life by providing private or semi-private outdoor spaces by
extending the living spaces (Smektała & Baborska-Narożny 2022), and by offering a chance to
267Peters and Masoudinejad
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DOI: 10.5334/bc.191
have a view down the street and upwards to the sky. Depending on their design, balconies can
also have negative unintended consequences, such as thermal bridging, loss of visual privacy due
to their configuration, and relationship between exposure and enclosure. In most cases, balconies
are static spaces that do not play a role in housing adaptability. Overall, the design qualities of
residential balconies in apartment housing are understudied and warrant further investigation
(Kesik et al. 2019).
The language around adaptability in buildings is challenging for architects to interpret and for
researchers to build upon precisely. Olsson & Hansen (2010) found that terms such as ‘adaptability’
and ‘flexibility’ can mean one thing in one discipline or context, but something different in another.
This was also evident in the literature review discussed below. The present focus is on adaptability.
The study of designing adaptable housing and integrating outdoor spaces necessarily involves
multiple disciplines and stakeholders.
Studies are identified that consider the adaptability in an architectural way, i.e. where the balcony
contributes to the overall adaptability and functionality of the unit. Two methods are used to
collect and analyze data: a review of published literature, and the identification and analysis of
housing cases.
At the beginning of the project, a literature review was undertaken to determine what kinds of
relevant published sources are available on this topic. The goal was to locate key published studies,
to identify gaps in the literature, and to give context to the architectural examples analyzed in the
project. A scoping literature review was performed as described by Arksey & O’Malley (2007), rather
than a systematic review. This method was selected because it is suited to finding key sources and
pertinent questions in a research area. This is deemed to be appropriate given that the area of
investigation has not been reviewed comprehensively before. Grant & Booth (2009: 97) describe
some perceived weaknesses of (non-systematic) literature reviews as a method, in particular that
this method lacks an explicit intent to maximize scope or analyze data collected. This may make
the conclusions of this literature review open to bias due to the potential of omitting some relevant
literature from this search, but since this is not the main contribution of the paper, the present
authors think it was the right method to use.
The focus of the literature review search was apartment balconies and adaptability. The Scopus
database was used together with a search of selected electronic architectural journals using a
snowballing technique in two phases. The initial search yielded 80 relevant sources for title and
abstract review. The review was limited to online journal articles, conference papers and e-books
using keyword searches including: flexible balcon*; flexible hous*; adaptable balcon*; adaptable
hous*; loggia; and balcon*. This initial search was carried out between April and July 2021, and
restrictions from Covid-19 limited the authors to online resources. The intent was to find studies
that reported residents’ preferences for certain balcony designs, and examples of how balconies
can improve indoor–outdoor connectivity, but the search failed to uncover much published
literature on this topic. Some papers found in the initial search focused on personalization,
resident initiatives, and building management policies, but they were not the focus of this study,
so they were excluded in the next phase. The second phase in August–September 2021 was a
full paper review of 30 sources, which were read and analyzed using annotated bibliographies
and then assigned relevant thematic keywords. For this phase, only sources were included that
foregrounded the architecture and design approaches, i.e. how the form, geometry, design,
and material of the apartments supported adaptability with an emphasis on integrated indoor–
outdoor space (
Figure 1
268Peters and Masoudinejad
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DOI: 10.5334/bc.191
After the literature review, examples were sought of built, multi-unit residential housing that used
balconies as a way to create adaptability and provide opportunities for outdoor space. Based on
a web search of recent housing projects, including architect websites, aggregator websites such
as Archdaily, and online publications sources including Architect magazine, Architectural Record
and other professional publications, a pool of 40 global examples of multifamily housing that
incorporate balconies were identified for consideration. This process took place between May and
September 2021. All the selected projects had been described as adaptable or flexible by the
architects in the project description. The authors then used a Miro board to collaboratively and
visually sort the apartment unit designs using published floorplans and by consulting additional
published determine how the designs were adaptable according to the definitions and concepts
from the literature review.
After this initial pool of examples was determined, a second round of sorting took place.
Projects that were not yet built were excluded, and so were projects that were low-rise and had
balconies that functioned more as terraces. At this stage projects were excluded that did not
have an adaptability strategy at both the balcony and dwelling levels. Additionally, projects that
had insufficient published information were excluded. The authors then redrew and annotated
the floorplans to compare how the units were adaptable. From this selection of 12, four were
excluded for being located in tropical climates. This purposely limited the examples of projects to
non-tropical locales. Eight examples were then used to test the analysis parameters and typology
categorization. The floorplans and building plans were analyzed to understand how the units
were adaptable.
Balcony design features and details of adaptation phases were documented, then analyzed.
Table 1
highlights the specific qualities and design parameters of the adaptable balconies studied.
Floorplans, photographs and text were analyzed to be able to describe the design parameters and
the open and closed phases of the adaptable functionality in these cases. These built examples
yielded results about specific design parameters for balconies that can:
• create a functional and comfortable balcony (functionality)
• allow a balcony to be adapted to residents’ needs on a daily or seasonal basis
(convertibility) and
• impact on the use of the dwelling, not just the balcony (dwelling adaptability).
Figure 1: Flow diagram of the
Need for Adaptable Housing Need for Private Outdoor Space
“Adaptable Balcony” Concept
Literature Review Built Examples Analysis
The Concept Relation to
Existing Theories
The Concept Definition
Key Terms Definitions
Methods Outcomes
Context: Apartment Housing
● Functional Balcony
Convertible Balcony
Adaptable Dwelling
Active Balcony
Passive Balcony
Adaptable Balcony Parameters
Adaptable Balcony Typologies
269Peters and Masoudinejad
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DOI: 10.5334/bc.191
The first group of parameters refers to the characteristics of the balcony as a functional space
(including size and ratio, level of enclosure, orientation, and other comfort parameters); the
second group refers to the convertibility strategy in the balcony (e.g. walls or doors that residents
can fold, slide, open and close, and materials that change the sense of enclosure); and the last
parameter refers to the adaptability strategy in the dwelling (at the level of both apartment and
room, to expand or shrink, and for indoor–outdoor integration or segregation).
Habitat 67, Montreal,
Moshe Safdie, 1967
Size: 4 × 4 m
Ratio: 1:1
Orientation: varies
Connection: 1 wall
Roof: no
Access: living room
strategy: glazed
 
59 Dwellings in
Neppert Gardens,
Mulhouse, France
Lacaton & Vassal,
Size: 1 × 10 m, 2 × 10 m
Ratio: 1:10, 2:5
Orientation: northwest,
Connection: sliding glazed
Roof: yes
Access: all rooms
strategy: glazed
sliding walls
 
Boulevard Ney
Housing, Paris, France
ITAR Architectures,
Size: 2 × 14 m, 3 × 5 m
Ratio: 1:7, 3:5
Orientation: varies
Connection: glazed door
Roof: yes
Access: dining area,
strategy: glazed
 
Grand Parc, Bordeaux,
Lacaton & Vassal,
Size: 6 × 3 m
Ratio: 2:1
Orientation: southeast
Connection: sliding glazed
Roof: yes
Access: entry and living
strategy: glazed
sliding walls
 
White Clouds, Saintes,
Poggi Architecture
Size: 1 × 3 m, 3 × 3 m, 5 ×
3 m
Ratio: 1:3, 1:1, 5:3
Orientation: all but north
Connection: glazed door
Roof: yes
Access: all main rooms
strategy: steel
 
ZAC Claud Bernard,
Paris, France
Dietmar Feichtinger
Architectes, 2016
Size: 2 × 3 m, 1 × 5 m
Ratio: 2:3, 1:5
Orientation: SW
Connection: glazed door,
Roof: yes
Access: Living room
Glazed louvers
 
Many concepts about housing adaptability consider the envelope as a layer that can be adapted
or changed, but often do not account for the unique benefits of modifying the balcony envelope.
Alterations of the balcony envelope can do more than extend space: it can change the experience
of existing spaces by varying thermal comfort, views, and light. Groak defines adaptability as
capable of different social uses (Groak 1992) and the term ‘adaptability’ is used here as the ability
to accommodate different functions or occupancies (e.g. bedroom–office or living room–bedroom
or dining room–office).
Schmidt & Austin (2016: 76) define adaptability as a synthesis of:
the capacity of a building to accommodate effectively the evolving demands of its
context, thus maximizing its value through life.
This definition can be applied to the adaptable balcony. This suggests adaptability should be
measured by how well a balcony keeps up with the demands of its users, and how it enables them
to modify and customize the indoor–outdoor relationships.
4.1.1 Adaptability and the convertible balcony
The strategies of growth (add-in) and division (Friedman 2002) and expanding within (Schneider
& Till 2005). Schneider & Till (2005) emphasize the practicality of this idea for multi-occupancy
and multi-storey housing where any growth has to occur within the original frame because of
structural and legal limitations. This is achievable in a design with a separate support structure and
infills/fit-out that facilitate prospect changes (Habraken 1972). Schmidt & Austin (2016: 107) refer
to the concept of convertibility and versatility as important concepts within adaptable housing.
Could convertibility and versatility be applied specifically to balconies? The majority of published
studies about balconies do not prioritize ease of user adaptability, or how often people want, or
need, to adapt their homes, e.g. seasonal adaptability. For balconies, the notion of convertibility
relates to being able to modify the level of enclosure, which could be achieved with sliding doors
and retractable overhead shading devices. The affordance given to inhabitants to be able to
open and close their balconies is named here as ‘convertible balconies’. Adaptable balconies can
function as a useful part of the living space, rather than as a separate, non-integrated facade
element. A further benefit is that a convertible balcony could provide for a varied range of indoor–
outdoor connectivity (according to the season).
NEXT21, Osaka, Japan
Yositika Utida, Shu-
Koh-Sha, 1994
Size: 3 × 3 m
Ratio: 1:1
Orientation: east
Connection: glazed door
Roof: yes
Access: varies
strategy: varies
by user
 
Savonnerie Heymans,
Brussels, Belgium
MDW Architecture,
Size: 3 × 3 m, 1 × 3 m
Ratio: 1:1, 1:3
Orientation: southwest
Connection: sliding glazed
Roof: yes
Access: all main rooms
strategy: glass-
 
Table 1: Selected housing
examples of the adaptable
balcony concept: classified as
passive and active balconies.
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DOI: 10.5334/bc.191
The concept of ‘slack space’ (Schneider & Till 2005) involves leaving an underused internal or
external area empty to anticipates potential occupation or future enclosure (e.g. an area in the
basement, attic, or a corner of the courtyard). Friedman (2002) introduced this idea as a ‘wide
open space’ in order to provide extra spaces for future changes. According to Schneider and Till,
changes in slack spaces are mostly hard changes lasting for a long time (Schneider & Till 2005).
Their concept of slack space can be relevant to the adaptable balcony concept. The adaptable
balcony has the potential to be convertible, adapting to seasonal and even daily intervals.
In considering the slack space idea, the adaptable balcony intends to contribute to residents’
wellbeing by providing a functional and comfortable outdoor space, while such an intention is not
defined for the slack space concept. The concept of convertibility and having agency over varying
the enclosure of the balcony is important, and the authors therefore evaluated it as a parameter
in the case studies.
4.1.2 Benefits to inhabitants: balconies and the adaptable dwelling
Besides the economic and environmental advantages of housing adaptability through extending
the useful life of buildings (Askar et al. 2021), there is a question of how the residents benefit.
Malakouti et al. (2019) found that the most influential component of flexibility in quality housing is
accommodating multifunctional spaces and capacity for expansion. Residents’ desire for flexibility
in their home might be due to a lack of quality in the original design, limitations in choosing a
suitable apartment, or as a result of their changing needs (Femenias & Geromel 2020). During
the pandemic, people reported higher demand for adaptability and spatial reorganization in their
homes (e.g. Alonso et al. 2021). It is obvious that residents can use spaces for various functions by
changing furniture layouts, but it is unclear how often they would actually do that. Considerations
of affordability and practicality are important. Recent studies showed a strong correlation between
(perceived) flexibility and resident satisfaction (Malakouti et al. 2019). Adaptability empowers
residents in their living environment (Till & Schneider 2005) and facilitates accommodation of
cultural diversity and even changing lifestyles due to particular circumstances such as the
pandemic crisis. Affordability is another benefit of adaptable design when an unfinished/partially
finished design can reduce the home selling price (Friedman 2000). As a relocation alternative,
the capacity of the home to adapt to changing needs and varying size of the family supports
residents’ safety and stability (Plaut & Plaut 2010). This is a certain aspect of housing adaptability
that could help ageing people stay in the comfort of their homes longer. The literature on building
adaptability tends not to address the specific challenges of certain program types, e.g. adaptability
in multifamily housing.
Through analysis of housing examples based on the three groups of parameters (functional
balcony, convertible balcony, and adaptable dwelling) it is possible to define and categorize two
types of adaptable balconies: active and passive. The classifications are determined based on how
easy it would be for residents to adapt the balconies to suit their changing needs: the focus is on
the inhabitant’s perspective. Overall, the more functional, convertible, and adaptable parameters
that are fulfilled in a dwelling, the closer the balcony is to an active balcony. The less it meets these
parameters, the closer the balcony is to a passive balcony. The classification of ‘active’ is connected
to the convertibility, and indicates that an occupant can adjust the level of enclosure. This ability is
important because it gives residents the choice and control over their home indoor–outdoor uses
and space efficiency. They can create a private outdoor space if they need a connection to the
outside or they can close it when they need to expand indoors or provide a buffer zone (
Table 1
4.2.1 Active balconies
Active balconies are those that allow higher levels of adaptability, where the balcony can easily be
transformed to meet different uses or needs. The pushing, pulling, and sliding of facade elements
can create new relationships between the inhabitant and the balcony, and facilitate new uses.
The inhabitant can easily and quickly modify the level of enclosure on the balcony, and may do so
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without costly renovations. With active balconies, the outdoor space can become an extension of
the living or dining spaces to suit inhabitant needs. In many cases, the balconies have sliding doors
that allow residents to open or close the space to meet their thermal comfort.
Several projects that exemplify the active balcony typology (
Figure 2
). For example, the ZAC Claude
Bernard (2016) in Paris, France, by Dietmar Feichtinger Architectes has active balconies. This
project contains a range of unit types from studios to four-bedroom units, and all apartments
are dual aspect, allowing for cross-ventilation and light from two sides. Each unit has an outdoor
space with either access to a balcony, roof, terrace, or loggia (Dietmar Feichtinger Architectes
2012). The outdoor spaces can be used to extend the living spaces and dining areas outdoors due
to their size and placement. Residents can vary the degree of enclosure by opening up the indoor
space to use the loggia, and can easily open or close the glazed louvers of the loggia. According to
the architects, the inset balconies, or loggias, are about 10 m2 and designed to accommodate the
comfortable placement of a table for outside dining (Dietmar Feichtinger Architectes 2012). The
balconies are part of the adaptability strategy in that they create enlarged indoor–outdoor dining
or living spaces that can be accessed seasonally or at various times of the day as needed.
The Grand Parc housing (2017) in Bordeaux, France, by Lacaton Vassal, is a renovation to an existing
multifamily housing building, and it also has examples of active balconies. The project has several
kinds of balconies, small private balconies, and also balconies are used as new access to front
doors for the units. The new access to units provides new indoor–outdoor balcony space added
around the outside of the building (Lacaton Vassal 2021). The concept relates to the architects’
design approach of ‘plus’ or ‘more’, meaning that they aim to renovate existing buildings by
adding rather than subtracting from the building uses and from the physical building form (Druot
et al. 2007). These are examples of active balconies because people use the space in the new
covered walkway by opening their front door. This covered corridor space has a high degree of
programmatic adaptability: it is a semi-public space that can be used to chat with neighbors, share
a meal, or store bikes and shoes. It can function as a front porch or a shared terrace or courtyard
space. It has a high degree of thermal comfort adaptability as the exterior walls can be opened or
closed via sliding screens, and there is even a narrow outer balcony beyond the covered corridor.
Figure 2: Examples of active
balconies illustrating their
convertible and adaptable
properties for enabling an
adaptable dwelling.
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DOI: 10.5334/bc.191
4.2.2 Passive balconies
Passive balconies are defined here as those that restrict convertibility, or where adapting the
enclosure to suit different needs would be more expensive or difficult have a lower degree of
adaptability. As with active balconies, passive balconies can be personalized by the inhabitant,
and can be re-designed and adapted to suit specific needs. A difference is that in passive balconies
the changes would happen less easily and frequently. When the convertibility and adaptability is
low, and changes by the inhabitant are less practical, these adaptable spaces are termed ‘passive
balconies’ (
Figure 3
An example of a passive balcony is White Clouds (2017) in Saintes, France, by Poggi Architecture,
which has balconies that protrude from the exterior, providing a semi-enclosed indoor–outdoor
space. These can act as a multipurpose room and be used as a garden shed, greenhouse, sitting
space, storage, or an extension of recreational indoor living spaces. The designers intended
these ‘pièces supplémentaires’, or additional rooms, to be used in different ways by residents
depending on the seasons, and to have sufficient depth, size, and proportions to be useful
for people and activities, such as dining, not just storage (Poggi Architecture n.d.). The project
does not have a high degree of adaptability in balcony space because the outdoor area can be
adjusted programmatically, based on residents’ needs, but it would be difficult and impractical
to adjust the level of enclosure of the balcony regularly. The protruding balconies and the metal
mesh enclosures are a defining architectural feature of the building, and a way of creating a
personalized or identifiable facade for each unit. The window-sized opening in the mesh indicates
a view window, and adds to the experience of this being an outdoor room.
Another example of the passive balcony typology is the Habitat 67 (1967) housing in Montreal,
Canada. This housing project was designed as an exploration in both construction and typological
innovations where the traditionally ground-oriented courtyard could be combined with the multi-
unit residential building. The result is a modular framework that takes advantage of the negative
spaces in between, and on top of, units (Merin n.d.). These become residential terraces. The
Figure 3: Examples of passive
balconies illustrating their
limitations for convertibility.
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DOI: 10.5334/bc.191
terraces, on the other hand, are adaptable because of their loose fit to each unit. These terraces
offer opportunities for residents to have personalizable space that is adaptable in use, although
not in form. There are limited ways to vary the enclosure. The terraces have minimal open/close
functionality, and are accessed via sliding doors from the living area (Merin n.d.). There have been
some examples where residents have renovated the unit and added temporary and permanent
enclosure outside in this space.
This framing of the adaptable balcony concept adds new knowledge to this area of housing
research with a focus on analyzing the adaptability of indoor–outdoor connectivity in apartment
housing. Reimagining balconies as dynamic environments in the scenario of home adaptability
shows how they can contribute to the efficient use of space in apartment housing while also
supporting residents’ mental and psychological wellbeing.
The examples given in Section 4.2 show how the balcony design can allow for user-driven
adaptability. The following discussion highlights a series of areas of enquiry that relate to balcony
design for adaptable housing.
The first requirement for an adaptable balcony is to be functional, and the balcony should be
a useable space. This relates to the functionality parameter. Important considerations are the
size and proportions of the spaces. There has to be enough space for varying functions and
activities. According to Aydin & Sayar, this should be considered the functional performance of the
balcony and the qualities of the space relate to the usability of the balcony (Aydin & Sayar 2021).
Considerations such as orientation, ratio and the relationship with the environment must be
considered, along with understanding the purpose of the balcony, its role in daily life, and usage
hours. Another consideration is the location and placement of the balconies in relation to the
floorplan because this impacts on functionality. For example, some balconies are accessible only
from the bedroom, and thus are unable to provide extensions of the living space. An important
consideration around functionality is that the inhabitant of the space and their behavior are
central to how indoor–outdoor spaces and balconies are used. All the examples in
Table 1
considered in terms of their functionality. For example, the balconies at Savonnerie Heymans
housing (2011) in Brussels, Belgium, by MDW Architecture are functional and the balconies are
large, useable, and adaptable.
Convertibility is also a fundamental attribute of the adaptable balcony and it relates to how
residents are able to vary the level of enclosure to suit their needs. Climate and weather are
important factors in how and when a balcony will be used by residents. Balconies in a tropical
climate such as Singapore may be more often arranged in an open position to provide shading or
outdoor space year-round, whereas balconies in rainy Vancouver in Canada may be more often
closed off from the weather. The analysis of adaptable balconies was unable to find clear evidence
about which enclosure types, e.g. loggia style or open-air designs, promoted adaptability. The
literature review sought papers that examined people’s comfort on balconies. However, most of
the studies on this topic were related to evaluating how a balcony impacts the thermal or visual
comfort within the dwelling, rather than the comfort of the person using the balcony. For example,
researchers have identified design parameters such as a balcony’s size and enclosure design,
its configuration and location, and its internal dividers as having a great influence on inducing
air speed inside the building (Mohammadi et al. 2010), but no mention is made concerning the
thermal comfort of those using the balcony. Visual and auditory privacy, feeling overlooked or
overlooking others, and location of the balcony on the facade all impact how often and in which
ways people use their balconies. For example, the Grand Parc housing by Lacaton Vassal has easily
convertible, adaptable balconies. The indoor–outdoor spaces are functional and residents are
able to personalize the space and put things outside such as furniture, and lighting. This ability is
important for adaptability and comfort.
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A dwelling should have a level of adaptability to facilitate the indoor–outdoor integration and
division. The relationship of the dwelling to the balcony, e.g. ease of access, such as the number of
steps up to get outside, or whether access is from a living room space or a bedroom, also impact
comfort and ease of use. The literature review did not find studies on the relationship between the
adaptability of dwellings and specific design requirements of balconies. However, some important
practical considerations arose in the case studies of adaptable balconies. For example, a balcony
space may be used differently when it is directly connected to relevant interior spaces. The ZAC
Claude Bernard in Paris has balconies designed to provide an extension to the dining area. The
balconies are therefore accessed via the dining room and aim to be integrated into the overall
unit adaptability. The architects designed the balconies with this intention, rather than providing
a smaller balcony designed to serve as a bike storage area or a small place in which to stand or sit
(Dietmar Feichtinger Architectes 2012).
In terms of the framing of the adaptable balcony concept and its primary parameters (functionality,
convertibility, and dwelling adaptability), there is a need for new methods and language relating to
adaptable apartment housing that prioritizes outdoor spaces. According to De Paris & Lopes (2018:
90), housing must be regarded ‘as a constantly adaptable space that needs to possess flexibility
to transform’. Not only are technical and material considerations important, but also cultural
issues need to be investigated more deeply, and further research is needed on the consequences
of space modification. De Paris and Lopes argue that there is a need for a new methodology
to evaluate adaptability, which should consider the dynamics of spaces with their geometry,
accesses, infrastructure, structure, proportions, partitions, and envelopes. Schmidt & Austin (2016)
also argue that one should consider buildings as spaces designed to change over time, and in
their theory of adaptable housing the authors reflect on many different kinds of changes that take
place in buildings. There is a great potential to better use balconies, and to take greater care in the
design of these spaces so that they support adaptability in apartment housing.
This study is an initial step towards defining and reframing adaptable balconies in multifamily
housing. It is a preliminary study to provide the necessary theoretical foundation and area of focus
before incorporating future fieldwork to visit apartment units and interview residents about their
balconies. The initial goal was to identify specific ranges for adaptable balcony design including
size, proportion, direction, privacy, and amount of enclosure, but based on this small sample of
analyzed designs, the findings are not generalizable given the wide range of balcony examples in
different climates, suiting different user needs.
There are some limitations to this study. An understanding of inhabitants’ balcony preferences
and how proximity to other buildings, views, and density impact people’s satisfaction is an area
of research that could be further explored. This study did not tackle the question of whether and
how balconies add value to dwellings. For example, the question of whether balconies should
be counted by building owners or developers as ‘saleable area’ and marketed as living space
is debatable. In some cities, enclosing existing balconies with glazing is a way to increase the
marketable size of the apartment (Geller 2019). The present study focused on balconies and
apartment units rather than the larger building and neighborhood context and therefore did not
consider the role of balconies in the larger context.
In the wake of Covid-19 and the waves of stay-at-home orders, apartment residents have higher
expectations of their dwellings to provide multiple functions. Additionally, there is a need for
an immediate private outdoor space at home to support residents’ health and wellbeing. The
adaptable balcony can contribute to both needs. In apartment housing, balconies can provide this
outdoor space and contribute to a dwelling’s adaptability. This paper developed the adaptable
276Peters and Masoudinejad
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balcony concept as a way to understand more deeply the role of this indoor–outdoor space. Based
on the analysis of built examples of balcony design and use, several balcony typologies were
identified and discussed for their ability to support housing adaptability within a dwelling.
There is a need for more research into specific design strategies for improving indoor–outdoor
connectivity in multifamily housing. In particular, future research must analyze how designers
can play more of a role in amplifying positive and adaptable design strategies to better use
balcony spaces.
Future work must also consider urban apartment balconies using an equity and inclusion lens,
since the provision of adequate outdoor space should be a requirement for all housing, and this
issue impacts certain resident groups more significantly than others. There is a need for more social
science and building science research into which residents use which kinds of balcony spaces in
the city, to inform design guidelines for more equitable access to outdoor space. Field studies and
interviews will be an important next step for this project.
The authors thank the editor and co-guest editors of the special issue for creating the intellectual
space for this contribution. They are grateful to the three anonymous reviewers whose insightful
comments helped to strengthen the arguments made.
Terri Peters
Department of Architectural Science, Ryerson University, Toronto, ON, CA
Sepideh Masoudinejad
Construction Research Centre, National Research Council of Canada, Ottawa, ON, CA
Initial draft, analysis, and literature review: TP and SM. SM undertook a more refined analysis. TP
was responsible for managing the work, and both participated equally in revisions and production
of the latter versions of this paper.
The authors have no competing interests to declare.
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Submitted: 17 October 2021
Accepted: 25 March 2022
Published: 20 April 2022
© 2022 The Author(s). This is an
open-access article distributed
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International License (CC-BY
4.0), which permits unrestricted
use, distribution, and
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provided the original author
and source are credited. See
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