Associate and Senior Architect at JTP, Ivana Stanisic reasons why we should ensure that no future home is designed without a meaningful private outdoor space.
Ivana has a keen interest in the role architecture plays in contemporary city development, and how it positively impacts communities. Here, she discusses her own past experiences of city living and how the lack of private outdoor spaces opens up a conversation for how we improve building designs to make cities more liveable.
Stay at home is a collective instruction. The reality of the lockdown is individual. Unexpectedly the situation of our homes, became the only situation. With confinement came the revelation; our homes are not fit for isolation. Flaws we found before lockdown are only felt more acutely now. The consolation is that for most of us the confinement period will end.
What is an extreme situation for the world of architects and designers, planners and decision makers, is now the reality for many. People with mobility problems are not the only ones confined to their homes for majority of the day. According to Age UK “in 2017 there were 20.37 per cent of women and 16.07 per cent of men in the UK who suffer from mobility problems.” The prediction is that the percentage will rise as people continue to live longer.
Over the past couple of weeks we have heard the pandemic called ‘the great leveller’. It is far from this as the lockdown is felt most acutely by the people with less privilege; people in socially rented accommodation, people without the luxury of a private balcony or garden, people in inadequate shared accommodation, people whose voices are often ignored.
As frustrating as this situation is, it has given us a great opportunity. The world of living and working will not be the same again as the result of the pandemic. If change is going to be for the better, we need to learn the lessons that these hours spent in confinement are teaching us. It is time to understand, empathise and improve the design of the most important place, the place where life starts and ends – our home.
At JTP, we specialise in harnessing human energy to create new spaces and breathe life into old ones. We want to ensure we learn from the lockdown; use our collective energy and incisiveness to create solutions that will improve the homes of the future. Homes that will make great places – to work, play, learn and live.
Who has not passed by a park during one of many sunny days of April lockdown, and not internally condemned people for sunbathing? I know I did. Then I remembered what life was like in a fourth-floor apartment without a balcony. How claustrophobic it felt to spend even half a day in it, how anxious it made me. The anxiety and claustrophobia are gone now with improved living conditions; it only took a move to a same size first-floor apartment that has a sheltered, south-east facing balcony, and with it the option to sit in the sun and watch the world go by.
It was not this memory that influenced the decision to give this topic such high importance. It was the knowledge of an elderly couple in my family that currently endures the lockdown confined to a small ground floor apartment with no private outdoor space. What a world of difference five square meters of outdoor space would make for them. Five square meters, the minimum that the London Plan recommends for two people, but other UK Councils do not impose on new developments. The exposure to sunshine, the fresh air, the exercise they could get by tending to plants. Lockdown has only exaggerated the issue – a life without private outdoor space for a retired elderly couple with limited mobility is less than satisfactory on any day of any year.
To improve health and wellbeing, reduce anxiety and afford everyone access to the outdoors on their own terms, it should be mandatory for every newly built home to have direct access to private outdoor space. We should never again build a new home without a meaningful garden, patio or a balcony. And this should be in addition to close proximity to high-quality public open spaces, not instead of.
As well as new build homes, there is a world of opportunity in upgrading existing homes to allow them to spill out into the left over spaces currently not used or of benefit to anyone.
Not every private outdoor space contributes to health and wellbeing of its users. Providing balconies and patios that are only meaningful as temporary outdoor storage space is almost as bad as not providing them at all. To aid understanding of what makes a meaningful outdoor space, we have developed the following criteria.
1. Size and Proportion
5. Relationship with the Indoors
6. Exposure to Nature
In order to create a meaningful and high-quality outdoor environment, any balcony, patio or garden should be designed to comply with all six of the criteria. Size is important but a lot can be achieved with compact, well-proportioned spaces. Orientation is important in order to capture the sun for a significant part of the day and allow daylight into the apartment or house. Shelter from rain and wind allows for the space to be used throughout the year.
A good balance of privacy with openess and connection to the street is important and one of the most challenging criteria to get right. If there is a true connection between indoor and outdoor space, the overall feeling of generosity of space is increased. And finally, the ability to add nature to your private outdoor space.
Private outdoor spaces add a different value to human life than public outdoor spaces do. They are spaces to be used on one’s own terms, in one’s own time. Where one can be alone or with others, left to personal choice. An argument that proximity to public open space can reduce the requirement for private outdoor space is close to absurd; no one would argue against a living room because of the proximity of a library.
Now that we had a taste of life in confinement, we should ensure that no future home is designed without a meaningful private outdoor space.