I was recently hired by a condominium association to come up with a functional solution — a balcony screen — to address lack of privacy and extreme heat gain as experienced by the homeowners with units facing the internal courtyard.
The three-story complex was built around 1968 as apartments. Out of 87, approximately 40 dwellings look onto a narrow courtyard (and onto each other). In the past, several residents have tackled the problem as they saw fit. Now, they are finally ready to tackle it as a building upgrade.
At our first meeting with the Balcony Committee members, it was clear that everyone was a little unsure. What can we do to mitigate heat gain while taking care of privacy and visual separation issues?
Awhile back, the Balcony Committee entertained a DIY canopy option, but that never materialized. Finally, regardless of varying opinions and interests, we made some progress. It was agreed upon that:
- privacy and sun protection are top priority; however, something like an outdoor shade from The Home Depot wouldn’t work;
- a balcony screen would work best; it would ideally consist of 3 panels (front and two sides);
- no canopy or anything overhead would be required;
- it would be nice to design something with perforations, even movable louvers, for greater functionality and flexibility;
- the design should be consistent with the style of the building.
A balcony screen can resolve both heat gain and privacy concerns.
To continue the discussion of possible direction, the committee took me to see the wooden structure one of the homeowners built on her balcony. Everyone agreed that it’s an excellent starting point — the best in the building.
Once authorized to move forward, I surveyed the courtyard and made an inventory of varying conditions. My goal was to find a way to address all of the unique circumstances with a single design. It would be ideal to have one standard balcony screen that fits all 40 balconies.
For inspiration, I took a look at precedents throughout Los Angeles.
As a result, I came up with an answer. A metal louvered structure attached to the top of the balcony railing will take care of heat gain and privacy issues at the same time. Thanks to its standardized connection detailing, this balcony screen is freestanding. Since it does not rely on sidewalls for support, it’s independent of any structural and/or sizing variations. Which makes it quite economical.