Warehouse, parking lot, office or swimming pool – over time, Ukrainian balconies became true objects for experiments. Our Balcony Chic book documents this unique architectural phenomenon. The author of the book Oleksandr Burlaka not only photographed strange, wild and interesting balconies of Ukraine, but also researched the transformation of the balcony culture.
We’re sharing part of the book’s foreword.
I am writing this on my balcony, facing a wardrobe packed full with various items: snowboarding boots; an old teapot; a box of my grandmother’s crockery, a cubic meter in volume; and a whole load of other stuff. On the left an old poster has been stuck on the window, blocking out the glare of the sunshine, so I can work on my computer. Behind me the rest of the balcony, 11 meters in length and 1.1 meters in width, is filled with little bookcases, a couple of bicycles, dumbbells, a few sledges, prams, a pair of skis, a snowboard, mattress, paint cans left over from the last renovation, and some bits of plastic and plywood. Besides these smaller items of clutter, the hoover, mirror, and tools are the only things that fall into L and XL categories. Everything is protected from the elements by a rational design of an aluminum frame 2mm-thick glass.
My father built this balcony in 2000 with the help of a specialized company. Installed in the apartment in which I grew up in, a sixteen-story building built in 1976, there was (and still is) an enclosed balcony with wooden frames and an old wardrobe inside.
Photo: Oleksandr Burlaka
The USSR’s planned economy did not foresee private companies, and architects’ designs did not plan for covering and glazing balconies. Instead, my relatives installed a frame and windows on it themselves at the end of the 1970s, despite the fact that none of them were architects or even builders. Even the materials for this were obtained by the help of unofficial methods, which was normal practice even then.
Thanks to this mass of motley additions and upgrades the facades of residential buildings do not resemble their blueprints, instead turning into what architectural theorist Cuba Snopek called ‘collective sculptures’.
Photo: Oleksandr Burlaka
But when was the first enclosed balcony built — and who was the first to install windows on their balcony railings?
Although the balcony’s form has remained unchanged for millennia, at various points in time in various societies the balcony has been significant for many reasons. For the Egyptian pharaohs their balconies, decorated with gold and lapis lazuli, were used for inspecting tribute and slaves and for greeting the people. The balcony continued to be used for state and political representation for millennia. Popes, dictators, presidents and society leaders have read out decrees, declared wars, and announced truces on balconies. The Ukrainian glazed balcony, with its multiple added functions, has remained a form of political representation—this time for ordinary citizens.
Breaks in the development of technology, the collapse of the Soviet Union, and the power vacuum of the 1990s led to a ‘flowering’ of sorts of types and shapes of enclosed balconies: antique-look wooden frames with one pane of glass; the ‘Brovarsky Balcony’, made out of corrugated iron and bus windscreens, held together by rubber seals; aluminum light-frame balconies; metal and plastic profiles cladded with plastic sidings. After the fall of the USSR and the process of privatisation took place a few particularly enterprising and lucky citizens became owners of factories, and everyone else, for the first time in history, had their own flat.
Ukraine’s patent office demonstrates modernity’s social desires. Submissions for patents include a way of heating up the junction points of balcony tiles; a device with a hydraulic pulley system for parking one’s car on the balcony; a balcony frame with a hatch which can be hung onto old buildings; a cupboard with a heater for storing vegetables on the balcony; a design for beehives which can be kept on a balcony; a balcony-sized greenhouse for growing mushroom spores; and a balcony-sized sun and wind turbine for producing electrical energy. In 2015 in Dnipro a resident on the 15th floor of a block of fats managed to install a twenty-tonne swimming pool on his balcony, which had a fantastic view onto the football stadium located next door.
The balcony war is not over: balconies are still a mirror reflecting socio-political changes. Over the last sixty years they have changed from being architectural levelers, which guaranteed one’s right of access to sunlight into becoming a battlefield for the possession of a larger area and their own representation against the background of an atomized society. We cannot tell from what or for what the balcony of the future will be made. One thing is clear—it will be enclosed and installed with windows. And it will have its own balcony.
Order the Balcony Chic book and read the full article.