Sapphire Balustrades’ Nick Haughton explores the latest trends driving the design and manufacture of balconies and balustrades, with a particular focus on developments to maximise aesthetic appeal and performance, and innovative construction techniques to save on-site time and costs for contractors and developers.
The world of architecture and building specification is constantly evolving, not only to satisfy increasingly stringent environmental regulations but also to reflect new design ideas and changes in the way we live and work. As a result, modern methods of construction and materials are being used more widely in order to create sustainable buildings that are as visually impressive as they are functional and cost-efficient to build.
Light and space
In recent years we have seen a definite move towards the use of glass in architectural design and these days you’ll find all kinds of public and commercial buildings utilising this beautiful and versatile material to stunning effect. Glass offers many aesthetic and practical advantages, whether it’s maximising the sustainability benefits of natural light in a large glazed façade or boosting sales appeal in stylish structural glass balustrades for apartment balconies. When it comes to new residential developments, living space is at an increasing premium, particularly in urban areas, and finding innovative ways to make the most of the space available is a high priority for architects and developers.
Balconies have become a ‘must-have’ feature for many new homes, whilst this is a requirement from the like of the London Housing Design Guide rather than just a trends, especially medium- and high-rise apartments both at the premium end and social housing end of the market where private outdoor space is often limited. Where a full, walk-on balcony isn’t practical for design or budgetary reasons, Juliette versions offer an attractive alternative. Essentially a balustrade around a window or door opening, this type of balcony is still a very effective way of bringing an open, outdoor feel to an indoor space when a projecting structure isn’t an option.
The right kind of balcony and balustrade combination can be used to great architectural effect. Not surprisingly perhaps, glass balcony balustrades are becoming the preferred choice for many developments, providing clear, unobstructed views plus the perception of ‘added value’. The transparent nature of glass helps to create the illusion of space and light, maximising the available surface area, whilst delivering a sleek and stylish finish in a whole range of settings. Although glass infill panels are often perceived as a more expensive option than metal, glass isn’t necessarily beyond the reach of projects with a limited budget. Working with an experienced balustrade manufacturer with the relevant expertise in glass can make glass both a cost-effective and low maintenance solution that simply needs cleaning rather than repainting at regular intervals like some metal balustrades.
Structural glazing systems
In recent years, stainless steel balusters (upright posts) and handrails have become sleeker and fixings for glazed infill panels have tended to become slimmer and more stylish. ‘Structural’ glazing systems are increasingly popular, that is balustrades where the glazing panels require no baluster posts and their own structural strength is used to withstand overturning loads and to support the handrail. This has led to the development of innovative bottom fix channel systems to support frameless glass panels, with handrails attached near the top of the glass panel.
Modern methods of construction
Modern balustrading systems for all types of balconies, together with advances in construction techniques and building materials, are making it simpler and faster to design and manufacture high quality solutions to exacting specifications. The innovative use of off-site fabrication has become a real alternative to more traditional production methods. Residential balconies, complete with decking and glass and stainless steel balustrades, can now be manufactured and fully assembled in a production facility and delivered to site ready for fast track installation.
By fabricating balconies in production line conditions a high degree of quality control over the finished units can be maintained. In addition to this benefit, site time and associated costs, such as scaffolding hire, are minimised for contractors and developers; while product quality can be kept consistently high compared with completing all of the work on site. Balconies are produced off-site whilst on-site works by other trades are being completed, such as installing doors and windows etc. With the building prepared the finished balconies are delivered to site ready to be craned into position before being fixed to the building structure in the specified fashion.
Developments in balcony systems
So let’s take a look at trends in balcony systems. Bolt-on balconies, which protrude from the building using a metal balcony frame, are one of the most widely used solutions and their design and fixing has been subject to a number of new developments. These include innovative connectors for quicker, easier fixing to façades, and off-site manufacturing of complete balconies, as already mentioned, to save on-site time and costs. For its part, Sapphire has developed a Glide-On Cassette balcony system to replace traditional steel-framed bolt-on balconies, which enables very slim balcony constructions as the balustrade fixing can be integrated into the balcony profile. The Cassette balcony system is very much leading the trend away from the troublesome installs of bolt-on balconies.
True value engineering
And as balcony and balustrade combinations and fixing details become more important in contemporary building design, it is becoming even more important to involve the right balcony and structure manufacturer at the earliest stage. Smart and personal service from the manufacturer can make a significant difference. It gives greater flexibility in aesthetic design, and minimises time and risk costs on site – true value engineering.
Summing up, balustrade and balcony systems will no doubt continue to develop to meet the changing aesthetic and functional demands of modern buildings. Developments are being driven by the need to provide solutions that are architecturally distinctive and which make it simpler and more cost-effective to achieve the highest standards of design and performance.