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Why do many Spanish apartments not have balconies?

The Local Spain
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Why do many Spanish apartments not have balconies?
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The majority of Spaniards live in apartment blocks, but many of them don't have balconies. Why is this, and has it changed over time? The Local explores.


Almost two-thirds of Spaniards lives in flats. That is the second highest rate in Europe, trailing only Latvia, according to Eurostat figures. Whether it be in big cities or small towns, most Spaniards are accustomed to living on top of one another in apartment blocks where you can hear and smell pretty much everything your nearest neighbours get up to - something unimaginable for people from other countries where semi-detached and detached housing is the norm.

But apartment block living is a lifestyle that suits Spanish life and culture in many ways: Spaniards are generally extremely social and spend little time at home, taking advantage of pedestrianised public spaces and parks, (or spending their entire day on the terraza) rather than being at home all day. For some Spaniards, their flat is somewhere they sleep and little else.

But although for many foreigners who've only visited Spain on holiday, the image of a balcony might be something stereotypically Spanish, or what they saw at their coastal resort, at least, but the reality is that this isn't often the case anymore. Many, indeed most, newer apartment buildings in Spain are built without balconies. 


Though most flats in apartment blocks built back in the 1960s and 1970s did have them, the vast majority of the newer build blocks don't, and balconies have become somewhat of a luxury for penthouse suites and exclusive neighbourhoods, no longer a part of regular Spanish life like they used to be.

Pandemic effect

That was until the Covid-19 pandemic, however, when lockdown brought the value of balconies back to the forefront of our minds as we were cooped up for months on end; having a balcony during those months in 2020 certainly was a luxury.

Indeed for some Spaniards, seeing the street at all was a luxury. According to Idealista, eight percent of Spaniards passed the quarantine period without even being able to see the street from their home, and several studies have shown that people who did not have a balcony, terrace or garden during the pandemic suffered more from anxiety and depression.

An analysis of Idealista's search result data shows that those looking for housing with a balcony, terrace or garden skyrocketed by 40 percent during the lockdown. But in many parts of Spain, demand still outweighs supply.

So, why do so many Spanish homes not have balconies nowadays? And when did it change?

Cultural changes

Similarly to how apartment block living suits the Spanish lifestyle, the slow disappearance of balconies itself reflects a changing Spain. The boom era of apartment block and balcony building, the 1960s and 1970s, was when Spain experienced significant domestic migration from rural areas to cities.

Urban planning norms mean that Spanish cities grew in height rather than width, due to restrictive zoning legislation that limited expansion into the suburbs and more and more high-rise buildings were constructed to deal with the growing population. Outside space, however small, was still considered essential to the recently arrived rural migrants.

Architect Pablo García of Atrezo Arquitectos told Idealista that "the design of housing and buildings as well as the urban planning and design of cities is something that evolves over time with construction and engineering techniques". 



"Each generation has a different way of living, of inhabiting," he adds. "The housing at the beginning of the century is not the same as that today. Now we live in cities and the family is made up of fewer members, many families have two cars, there is a greater demand for storage."

"The model of the city and of the buildings of almost the entire 20th century had the balcony and terraces very much in mind. We can see the facade projects of many architects who imagined these spaces full of plants and vegetation and their inhabitants making relaxing use of them. Perhaps all this was envisaged at a time when the level of traffic, noise and ways of living were different," he continued. 


But there is another important consideration that partly led to the decline in balconies: their surface only counts for half in terms of m2.

In Spain, cadastre regulations mean that terraces or balconies count for half in terms of square meterage. That means, for example, that if you had a balcony of 15 m2, it is counted as 7.5 m2 in the floor plan. After the apartment block boom began to die off, things began to change and Spaniards (especially Spanish estate agents) became more preoccupied with an apartment's square meterage than they were with its outdoor space.

"We stopped having terraces (and balconies) in buildings when we thought that the quality and luxury of a home was measured exclusively in square metres. At the time when we put quantity before quality and thought that a 25m2 living room was better than a 20m2 living room with a 5m2 balcony," architect Eloy Calderón told GQ magazine.


García believes that "people want a bigger living room more than a terrace. Estate agents are no strangers to this phenomenon and choose not to offer them. It is much better for the house to have that balcony [space] within the liveable area... good storage room and a garage is what people want. In the end, architecture is a product, that is the reality, and as a product, it is sold according to the buyers, their purchasing level, interests and demands," García believes.

Put simply, if the market demands fewer balconies and more floor space inside the house, the market will supply it. But have things shifted again?


It seems that the harsh realities of the pandemic lockdown have led many to rethink the trend. So much so that some Spanish regions are actively trying to promote balconies and build more of them.

In the Basque Country, the local government has pledged to pay a subsidy of up to €5,000 per house to all buildings that reform and add terraces or balconies, as long as the changes do not pose any dangers to the structural integrity of the building.


According to the legislation, balconies and terraces will be considered, as they were by many rural migrants during the migration to urban centres in the mid-twentieth century, as 'essential elements' for properties to be habitable. Balconies in the Basque Country will be as important to housing quality as square meterage, but also thermal and acoustic insulation, and accessibility, among others. 

In the Basque regulations, balconies must measure at least 4m2, not included in the overall m2 of the house. 

The Valencian government has made a similar pledge, promising to install balconies on all its social housing.

And although this trend hasn't been replicated at the national level just yet, after the lessons of the pandemic, Spaniards are certainly more interested in the importance of balconies than they used to be. 


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