The frequent option for an open balcony or terrace, full of flowers and leisure furniture marks a radical shift from the local middle class’ options of the mid 2000s. The enthusiasm for double-glazed windows at the time gave rise to a mass phenomenon of enclosure of balconies and loggias. In most cases when somebody was buying an apartment, the first step of its renovation was beginning (and sometimes ended as well) with the fitting of double glazed windows (Iancu 2011). A similar step was taken for closing the balcony, a common practice in socialist Romania. After 2005, double-glazed windows had become such a valued social status indicator, that they entered pop culture by means of a music hit of those times: “Termopane, termopane!” of artist Florin Chilian.
Once this era ended, these balconies become recently part of a wider universe of domestic material culture which the members of the middle class start to leave behind, sometimes as an explicit statement to part with the materialities associated with post-socialist transition (considered to be domestic improvements motivated by necessity) but also stimulated by the offer of Ikea and other home improvement stores.
The open balcony becomes, in some cases, a metaphor for an absent garden. One of my interlocutors has developed a whole greening project focused on his balcony, which included its paving with waterproof deck and pots of flowers and herbs. Simultaneously, the balcony becomes a refuge for smokers trying to protect their children from second-hand smoke.
On such balconies/terraces, the storage spaces are absent or diminished in size in favour of new items signalling leisure-time activities as a similar phenomenon described by Fehervary (2012) for a Hungarian city. Objects are stored in garages or improvised closets and pantries. The neighbours who shift away from this type of representation are severely criticised on the residential Facebook groups through rituals of public shaming rebuking the “inappropriate” (to read: as in the socialist period or as – as one of the inhabitants posted) use of balcony – “in a ghetto”).
Far from suggesting that the decision to abandon socialist apartment buildings for the new buildings with open terraces is the only driver for residential change, affirmations of my interlocutors do indicate that the double-glazed enclosed balcony has ceased to embody the “respectable material standards” (Patico 2008) of middle-class identities and aspirations, making more and more obvious the symbolic dichotomy between the socialist apartment building and the new residential ensembles.
References: Fehervary, K. (2012), “Postsocialist Middle Classes and the New “Family House” in Hungary”, in R. Heiman, C. Freeman and M. Liechty (eds), The global middle classes: theorizing through ethnography. Santa Fe: School for Advanced Research Press. Pp. 117-144
Iancu, B. (2011), “The Golden Age of Termopane. The Social Life of Post‐Socialist Windows”, Martor, 16, pp. 19‐33.
Patico J. (2008), Consumption and Social Change in a Post-Soviet Middle Class. Stanford, CA and Washington, DC: Stanford University and Woodrow Wilson Center Press.