© 2011 Jeff windows-church_exterior_at_night-wide



What would be of architecture, if it was without windows.  If its true that – “the eyes are the windows of the soul“, as  Shakespeare said- then surely windows are the EYES of our architectural designs- of our homes.  I know when I look on a house of course I notice the rooflines, study the materials and other things- but the windows are the focal points where you look to glimpse inside, the objects in the field of the wall.  This is not to mention gangs of windows, where we turn a whole wall into an opportunity for light and hopefully fresh air to come inside.  Or bays, transoms, casements, double hungs, jalousie, awnings, hoppers we have so many types and terms and uses for our transparent friends.   What are french doors but windows who got big enough to let us not just see outside, but walk through their portal and into the garden, or in italian- portafinestra which is a door-window.


Did you ever consider that windows are in some ways nothing?  The null, the void- the transparent-clear-invisible thing.  In math there is the zero,without which ironically, we would not be able to have our tens system but perhaps would have run out of numerical symbols by which engineers, accountants and musicians use to describe things.   I think similarly somehow, the window makes our architecture more viable, although mystically it is this negative part of the equation that actually adds so much richness to our designs.  Less abstractly, without windows how could see out?  How could we let LIGHT inside? Where indeed would we be without windows!  So great is our affection for them that in some cases we have designed entire buildings with them as the sole material.  Philip Johnson’s glass house and I.M. Pei’s Louvre Museum for starters.  And what would decorators do without the necessity of window treatments!  Think of all the industry created that would not exist without them.  Drapes, blinds, shades, awnings, shutters would have no reason to exist.


I have certain admitted preferences about windows. I like casement windows best. Why? Because they are like DOORS, they swing out and when open, you have one big opening. Not so with double hungs, you have a big bar (sash) across the middle that blocks your view, when you “open” them they only give you HALF the opening that is open!  They should call them HALF hungs really-  Dont love them.  Another thing, the just about perfect proportion for the “lites” in a divided lite window is 7 to 11 width to height.  As in inches.  I am happy to share the big secret.  Of course each window is different in its overall size but the same proportions apply.  Ever see windows that have square lites or lites that are wider than they are tall?  Not pretty. Ok, unless its an ART DECO building in Miami, then its ok- but thats it.  No other exceptions, in my book.  I also much prefer the muntins to be no larger than 7/8 an inch wide and prefer 5/8 but only a few window makers do them this thin.  Then there are leaded glass windows which of course are just resplendent in their gauzy-ness and ancient feel- in leaded glass parlance the muntins are actually referred to as CANES.

Just in case I accidentally lost you, regarding window terms like lites and sashes, for this ONE time I will be technical and talk about the components of a window.  First off there is a frame, which is mostly hidden by the trim around the window.  Lets do trim another time, its complicated.  The parts of the window you see are starting from the perimeter, the SASH.  This the operable border of the window that holds the glass.  The glass is bordered by MUNTINS, these are the smallest pieces of solid material (wood or metal) that divide the glass into pieces.  Those pieces of glass are called of course, panes- or in more technical terms LITES.  Now one last thing- zoom back out to where you have two or three windows or heck five windows all in a row.  The larger pieces of wood that separate the windows are called MULLIONS.   Not to be confused with muntins.  But obviously pretty close to sounding the same at least in English.

Speaking of the English, a little history, back in the centuries man just carved an opening to satisfy their desire to see out, also it came in handy in castles to shoot those pesky invaders, without risking life and limb- but obviously rather drafty.   The Romans had some crude glass windows, and in the orient they used paper instead of glass-  but the windows closely related to ours came as early as 14th century in Northern England. After some more centuries went by, industrial glass making came along and thus what we today call windows.  So important are they that in England they actually taxed them.  During the reign of William III and Mary II, during the 1690′s the “window tax” was introduced.  It was easy to enforce since they could be counted by tax collectors from outside.  People actually dodged the tax by bricking up their windows, and unbricking them as soon as the tax collector had gone!

I love the way Louis Kahn put it when he said “consider the momentus occasion when the wall departed, and the column became.  I think it’s plausible to insert the word window into that same sentence.  Ever since that moment, we have been fascinated with seeing out, or peeking in-  and architects have been making spaces filled with light, from where comes all life, its rays piercing through the darkness.





  1. Margi
    Posted 08/27/2011 at 6:37 AM | #

    Beautifully written never thought so much about windows or learned so much in such a poetic way

  2. Posted 08/27/2011 at 8:19 AM | #

    As always, very well written, requiring the reader to pause and ponder.

    Historically, I have only considered the appropriate style and placement of windows. Stained/leaded glass windows have always been appealing, but none more so, than antique, “wavy” glass. The panes each carefully handcrafted by a glassblower, in either the Crown or Cylinder methods. To me, each pane has a soul, their own story and unique like a snow flake. Jeff’s musings provide the impetus for deeper consideration.

  3. philip morris
    Posted 08/27/2011 at 10:05 AM | #

    Excellent illustration for these observations. Had not thought about the double-hung’s negatives. Took them for granted. Not now.

  4. Posted 08/27/2011 at 11:59 AM | #

    Great stuff. I especially like the explanation of the perfect proportion. I’m going to be paying attention to that now. I always enjoy learning why something looks good and something else not so. It’s the details.

  5. Jennie
    Posted 08/31/2011 at 8:49 AM | #

    As a dweller in houses, when I think of windows, I inevitably think of what they frame from the inside, aka The View… We all know what would happen if wishes were horses, but if wishes were windows, would all of us stuck in deepest suburbia for most of the year be able to see all the way to the ocean on a clear day? On that pleasant note, here’s something I read the other day for the guy who loves a good quote… “The window invited her to see…The gigantic sky radiant as water ran over the earth and around it. The old moon in the west and the planets of morning streamed their light.” That’s from Eudora Welty… BTW, definitely like the concept of the window as zero. Architectural Existentialism? Sartre would be proud… :)

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