The Role of Windows in contemporary Architecture
To be relentlessly passionate about something – that is what sets brilliance apart from everyday obscurity! To be passionate about healing people, to be passionate about furniture, to be passionate about money, to be passionate about order, to be passionate about how even the most sundry thing works – this is what make the world go round! Recently, I was reading about this Indian lady who is so entrenched in the drama of her work, she took to investigating primitive architecture around the world. To those who are so caught up in the daily conundrum of our lives, do we even care? What makes one care? The profound predilection one has for something – in this case, architecture, and ALL that it encompasses.
“Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable… Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals.” said Martin Luther King, Jr., in his work ‘Struggle, Justice, Progress’. Whether dome-shaped huts on stilt legs in Samoa or huts with pitched roofs and front porches in fortified Maori villages or dwellings in British Columbia with totem poles in front, the log huts of Lapp, temporary structures made from pandanus leaves and branches in Solomon Islands, keel-shaped tents of the Ethiopian nomads, aboriginal cave dwellings in Oz – well, should I name more? A three-decade odyssey and the charm still hasn’t worn off! This exploration originated as an offshoot of her frequent travels for international architectural conferences during which time she would take a couple of days to travel beyond the run of the mill tourist spots. It all started when she explored the interiors of Alaska and was confronted with conical tents, similar to the ones she’d seen in Mongolia, on the opposite side of the globe! What she came away fascinated with, every single time, was that the tribals saw the land as their abode, their architecture, and that these people were gentle, non-aggressive, keeping away from things or people they didn’t trust.
Studying these structures, Rohini Shankar says that though some of the features of the diverse structures are alike, some don’t occur to you right away and are downright puzzling, like the pagodas of Buddhist temples bear something in common with the saddle-backed roofs in New Guinea, or the dome-shaped huts of the Polynesian islands show a definite resemblance to the domes of Islamic architecture, though the geographical and cultural distances between them alone would dissuade from forming parallels! However, the structural designs marvel – the primitive tribals of the Andaman Islands built simple, sturdy structures with just poles and leaves to withstand the sun, wind and the island’s notorious monsoons, with the wind blowing through the structure than around it! Can we imagine something like that today? She firmly underlines the fact that unlike today’s general approach, primitive architecture reflects an attitude of reverence for nature, being completely non-disruptive. Hmm. A thing or two to be learned from there!
In his Essay on Architecture, architectural theorist Marc-Antoine Laugier opines that the aesthetics and architecture of ancient Greek temples were drawn from the plan of the primitive hut, which is considered the oldest of habitations built by man. As he pointed out, the basic Doric style of architecture was inspired by the hut’s format in which a horizontal beam was supported by vertical tree trunks embedded into the ground, with a sloping roof to channel rainwater into the ground.
Think about it! How did people manage anything without the gadgets of today? How did they know where to find food, and how to till the ground? Was it passion? Or was it survival?
Says Rohini, “I once asked a little child to draw houses, and I was amazed to see her come back with just rectangles. The child has seen nothing but our cuboidal blocks, towers and tenements. Well, that is the state of our architecture today, with most urban buildings tending to be just blocks.”
Windows in Contemporary Structures
And windows? Most structures didn’t have windows in those days, as aesthetics was not part of the primitive consideration. The structures or abodes just had a man-sized opening for entry and exit they were used only for protection against the elements and wild animals, otherwise the land was their home, with the primitives spending most of their time outdoors, unlike today, when most people spend 90% of their time indoors!
Back in the 17th century, most buildings, notably among them castles and palaces, began to sport slit-like openings in structures for ventilation, and more importantly, for defence. For better room brightening, skylights also came into existence, especially in buildings that had wide roof overhangs that obscured the entry of light; skylights were also seen as a method to brighten attics that were otherwise completely dark.
In today’s world, I don’t think there’s a single person anywhere who’ll voluntarily live in a dwelling without windows; so much importance has the window gained in modern architecture, that one sees glass walls, plate glass windows, and all sorts of fanciful variations of operable windows, from French windows, bay windows, bow windows, windows whose flaps open outward, inward, upward and downward; windows mounted on wheels that are hinged to form accordion folds, and those that pivot to open and close. Green building advocates propound that the use of inoperable windows show the way to seamless energy efficiency when used in tandem with efficient heat recovery ventilation (HRV) that continuously pulls in fresh air that is conducted through interiors without making a difference to indoor temperatures. Windows, then, serve to provide a view and to provide illumination.
The orientation of windows would affect the amount of heat and light energy let into a room. This then calls on window coverings to regulate the heat and light while helping to shield interiors from prying eyes and sun rot. Organizations such as Graber, Norman and Crown work ceaselessly to elevate the comfort levels of interiors by coming up with innovative window shading that also provide scintillating interior aesthetics. Products such as the CrystalPleat Cellular Shades from Graber insulate the rooms of any home to an awesome extent that it provides a good 30% savings in terms of energy consumption. The Motorized Skylight Shutters from Norman is an innovation of unsurpassable convenience that makes the control of light child’s play. The Roller shades from Crown bring appreciable economic window dressings to homes so that energy efficiency, privacy and insulation is taken care of in one go.
Pay attention to structural detail when purchasing or renting a home. It will help you save energy bucks that could go into some other aspect of life. Cheers!