The Hamster Box

Neufert’s magical book for architects has this lovely page about balconies. It exemplifies the various types and their characteristics.
Balconies are exterior structures, typically on the outer limits of the facade with the simple purpose of providing outdoor experience to the residents of an apartment. When these balconies are placed inside the limits of a facade (biting out of the floor plan) they are called loggias. Typically loggias tend to be used in warmer environments when the heat would be turning the balcony into a bit of a desert. They are also good options when the plots are small and close to the public line, which does not allow for overhang.

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The more I browsed through the housing market of the Netherlands, the more I bumped into a sort of a balcony, typically labeled as a “loggia” both on the plans and on the websites, that had me seriously puzzled. I recently joked by calling this “loggia” a hamster box. However, upon further thinking, I thought it was quite appropriate nickname which perfectly sums up my feelings about it.

Source

It basically is, just a corner of a room, enclosed with glass walls in such a way that opening the windows does not affect the interior space and saves the smokers from being tossed outside of the house. It is literally a hamster box. It has none of the simplicity and elegance of a loggia, or the clear space of a balcony. It is a patch, a band aid, an after thought of the layout. It does not work with the plan of the house, it is just an add on.

The only reason I can see for making such a horrible compromise it is a financial one. It is indeed much easier and cheaper to add two glass walls on the interior. These two walls pose the same structural issue as any other interior wall, meaning that they can be moved and/or removed at any point in time with minimal intervention. They affect in no way the exterior facade allowing it to be the same everywhere and having the same type of window frames no matter if it is a “loggia” or a simple wall with a window. It allows for a smooth non structural facade. It discards the issue of water drain of each individual balcony and decreases the amount of exterior wall surface (and implicitly the costs of isolating material). It basically lightens the work of the contractor and keeps the budget to the minimum for the investor.

It looses any and all of the finesse of a loggia. It blends the facades into the same unexciting vertical wall of bricks and window surface and it breaks the continuity of the interior space without adding anything to it. It confuses the intended outdoor experience of a balcony/loggia with looking out the window from a couch/armchair/or whatever one might be using.

It is a design that I have found in many new apartments built after 2000. It is marketed as a modern option and perpetuates a confusion of terms. The more it is used, the more people associate the loggia concept with this glass enclosed space. The fact that it is a cheap and easy way to cheat a balcony does not mean it is beneficial or in any way something with the potential to enhance either the human experience or the architectural field.

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