Re:think Balconies

Re:think series: We’re taking a look at developments that think a little differently about specific real estate topics.

Today, we’re talking ’bout balconies!

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Who doesn’t like a good balcony?! This little sliver of an oasis can be valuable real estate–treasured outdoor space that allow us to escape the hustle and bustle.

However, balconies can be dull, under-utilized, and lacking in execution. This can happen for many reasons (from an afterthought in the development process to value engineering to legal restrictions and so on).

For example, how about this:

boring balcony 1

or this:boring balcony 3

First let’s clear the air: not every project can push the limits of design, engineering, and ingenuity. Yet as several projects below reveal, a little unconventional thinking can go a long way.  Here is a collection of projects that show that, despite various constraints, balconies can bring out the best in a real estate development:

First, any residential project designed by Bjarke Ingels

Want a project that pushes development boundaries; ask Bjarke Ingels to design it for you! The famed Danish architect incorporates massively clever balcony design into almost every residential project his firm gets its hands on.

First example: VM Houses, developed by Per Hopfner and designed by Ingels’ PLOT in 2005. The main attraction of this project is its razor sharp balconies that extend from the facade. (I couldn’t hold back on this one…definitely thinking ‘outside the box’!)

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Straight from our pals at Wikipedia, this quote speaks volumes about the importance of a collaborative working relationship between developer and architect for such an ambitious project (which was Ingels’ very first commission):

Høpfner’s son Peter explained how cooperative Ingels turned out to be, always ready to adapt his plans if the costs were too high. “VM may look crazy,” Høpfner remarked, “but it came in on budget.” He believes the project’s success was due in part to the frequent discussions the architect had with the developer in his role as general contractor.

Next up, Ingels’ Mountain Dwellings.

The next big residential commission for Ingels and PLOT came right next door to the VM Houses.  Mountain Dwellings, completed in 2008, takes on a much different character than VM, but has an equal curiosity with the balcony and outdoor space.

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W57 – New York

Bjarke Ingels is invading the States! His first project in the US, developed by Douglas Durst, should set new standards for NYC residential development. Coming soon to the Big Apple, W57 carves out balconies from the twisting and turning pyramid.

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519 W 23rd St – New York

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HL23 may be the gem of the High Line development explosion in recent years, but its slender neighbor to the west packs a lot of punch–especially with its clever incorporation of balconies.

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Budget constraints, high profile location, a design behemoth next door, and numerous regulations–it doesn’t get much more challenging than this to design and develop a well-executed project. Yet, the developers and designers behind 519 W23 used the balcony as a strong focal point in their project because of these constraints. 

The balconies, which are built from relatively inexpensive materials, are a direct result of designing and building within a very strict budget. However, because of their graphic impact, the balconies thoughtfully elevate the development.

519 w 23rd st 5

Aqua Tower – Chicago

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Magellan Development Group set out to change the Chicago skyline with the Aqua Tower. Advancements in digital modeling technology–paired with more efficient concrete form-making manufacturing methods–gave the Aqua Tower team the ability to create this flowing facade. Form meets function as each balcony is seamlessly integrated into the facade.

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Marina City – Chicago

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Let’s turn the clock back 50+ years for this project (located down the street from the Aqua Tower): Marina City.  Bertrand Goldberg’s urban mega development of the ’60s used concrete forms in similar ways to the Aqua Tower, yet the fiberglass molds were repeated over and over to form the corncob pattern seen above.  The repeated balconies (which are very generous in size) become the face of the development. Interesting fact: the repeated concrete form work used for the balconies greatly sped up construction time. Some floors were built in less than one day!

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The project became such an icon of its time, brands and advertisers quickly took notice. (I smell another article topic brewing!)

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Casa Mila, Barcelona

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Turning the clock back another 50+ years, Antionio Gaudi was a visionary well ahead of his time at the turn of the century. Casa Mila, in the heart of Barcelona, fully displays his genius. The balconies of this building organically protrude from the facade (almost a century before computers made these forms much easier to design and build).

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Balcony as product 

Let’s look at a few ways balconies are treated as a product.

This window system from Farko turns a sky light into an instant balcony:

Farko Balcony

While conceptual, here’s a retrofitted balcony design dreamed up by architecture students for existing buildings.

Innovative Balcony Design 1

Have a project on the books and want a few more projects to be inspired by?

How about this one:

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This one:

tokyo balcony

And this one:

denmark balcony

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