A window is a frame through which we see the world. Some views are full of wonderment, others frame that which is not so pleasant with our world. A window, unlike a door will only be looked through, never exited through… except in an extreme emergency… Actually and metaphorically.
For every new building I’ve ever worked on, the selection of the windows has been the main obsession for the project. I’ll use the word “obsession” a lot when referring to windows because it is a huge part of both the interior and exterior function and aesthetic of any building. Not to mention the large percentage of the budget they eat up. Designers of buildings since the beginning of recorded history have been obsessed by windows.
Early examples of window architecture are exhibited in every culture… from a hole in the wall adding animal skins, weaved grasses, wooden shutters to carved stone lattice. In ancient Far East, paper was used as a window covering. Small pieces of glass were developed in 100 AD in Roman occupied Alexandria, Egypt. Windows have allowed us the ability to see our enemy coming from afar while we stay protected within our abodes. The colourful stained glass of European churches has wondrously guided illiterate followers with pictured stories of the Bible. Later in time, the size of your windows exhibited the status and wealth of your family. Windows were covered in the interior with heavy draped fabrics… the more money you had the thicker and fancier the drapes were. The Hall of Mirrors at Versailles was a stunning showcase for France’s new plate glass technology of the 1680’s.
The agenda of windows has not changed much since ancient times, except we add energy efficiency to the list of reasons for purchasing the best windows that we can afford. Ancient designers knew the benefits of window locations. Not just adding vantage points in buildings for spotting marauders but strategically adding windows for best lighting of interiors, efficient seasonal heating and cooling from the sun’s rays and air flow throughout the interiors. The architectural term is “fenestration” which also includes doors in the category. Since the advent of structural glass and industrial steel in the late 19th century, fenestration such as skylights, glass floors, and mile high curtain walls have been made possible.
As well as real objects, a window is a metaphor, as in Queen Elizabeth’s proclamation that she “did not want to make windows into men’s souls”. Through romantic poetry and art, the window is a magic casement of symbols of hopes and dreams. That which appears outside the window seems to be better than what we have within. Modern day artist, film director Alfred Hitchcock was fascinated by voyeurism and used the window as a setting in his film Rear Window. There are whole books dedicated to the meaning of windows in dreams. University psych courses abound with deep meanings for windows. A certain company has made a fortune with a computer program using the name. Windows are deeply rooted in our collective unconscious… there is a reason why we don’t like windows behind our bed’s headboard!!
A window will determine a lot about an interior, such as how much air, light, heat, cold, view and much needed privacy one will or will not receive from their window. On the exterior, it’s all about aesthetics. For windows, they do not just following the rule “form follows function” but add a layer of status and metaphor to the mix… a perplexing thing they are. That’s why designers and architects love, love, love windows…. obsessed!!