Lockdown perspective: With no balconies in Mumbai’s new constructions, is it time to save the space?
About the fact that Covid-19 conjures up images of deserted cities, there is one room that has gained notoriety for the way it bridges the private and public realms: the balcony. Italians also entertained their neighbours by playing music on their balconies.
A neighbourhood in Spain organized a game of group bingo, which saw people once again walk out into their balconies. Residents in France thanked caregivers by hanging banners from their balconies. The balcony has helped people all over the world to experience a sense of belonging beyond their physical separation and feel the impact of coronavirus less. Unfortunately, in Mumbai’s newer constructions, there are no flats with balconies in South Mumbai.
The balcony has long been a place to communicate with the neighbourhood, enjoy festivals together, and even have political discussions in old Bombay, or in picturesque art deco buildings or chawls. “Back in the day, people would read their newspapers, speak to their neighbours, dry herbs, and watch such processions from their balconies. It was an important feature of the neighbourhood and the city as a whole,” said a history professor and assistant dean of Mumbai University’s faculty of humanities. Mill workers have used verandas in chawls to address politics, he said.
Real estate in India is quite different, why? This is because, in Mumbai’s newer constructions, balconies are hard to come by. And the flip side is that balconies will allow for communal bonding
Mumbai has lost this architectural aspect due to the population, unaffordable property prices, policy interventions, and smaller tenement sizes. “Balconies became almost extinct by the 1990s. It’s past time for developers to consider whether these spaces should be restored, according to a well-known conservation architect.
In most flats with balconies in South Mumbai, balconies are either converted into a room or used as a dry space (for the washing machine, for instance). Any people who have balconies use them to store their belongings.
An architect said, “Balconies are no longer affordable for Mumbaikars.” “Today, everyone would choose a 600-square-foot [bedroom, corridor, kitchen] to a 550-square-foot [living area] + 50-square-foot balcony,” he added.
Since FSI decides how large a building can be, changing rules for floor space index (FSI) are also to blame for the absence of balconies. Balconies were added to the FSI’s fungibility list in 2012. “At first, balconies were free of FSI, so everyone chose it,” a social worker explained. “The current rules contain balconies in FSI once again,” he said, “but its concept has evolved socially over time, so only the rich who are buying larger than 2BHK now opt for it.”
The balcony may have served as a changing room at a period when people were seen walking or doing yoga on their building terraces.
It is designed with the old charm of Bombay lifestyle in mind, with flats with balconies to cheer your day and modern lifestyle amenities that can entertain friends and family. The growing concern of COVID pandemic has not only caused a lockdown and kept people at a distance but can aggravate the condition of the individuals that have lost all interaction with their social circles.
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