Thursday, July 07, 2016

Architectural Mini-Tutorial: More about windows



“So, what about our windows?” It’s usually a half-asked question at some early stage of a project, about the colour of windows generally – which are usually picked by someone who has a favourite colour they see in a brochure – or about how many windows in a space – just so many holes punched in a wall -- but the placement and colour of your windows is more important than you might think.

Consider it from the point of view of perception, as architect Richard Neutra used to. Former Neutra apprentice John Blanton explains the importance of size and placement:

Studies in neuroscience in architecture will continue to show the benefits of bright, daylight rooms..
    Lowering costs through simplicity was always a factor for [Neutra] so that the client could afford gracious social areas within a limited budget, which he took very seriously.
    A room with a single exposure, especially a bedroom or business office, is the hardest to work with. Neutra’s answer was wall-to-wall windows, but not necessarily floor-to-ceiling. Extending them to the corners created light onto, and gained reflection from, the side walls. This accomplishes brightness with lessening of glare. Some light from those walls reflects back onto the solid portion of the window wall, again decreasing glare. Thus, a feeling of a dark cave wall with a single overly bright opening was avoided.
    The effect of opening up the room is further enhanced because the eye flows to the nature beyond the glass, unhampered by the enclosure of dead corners. I have long believed that glare is caused by the eye’s rapid re-focusing between light and dark. This is stressful, which is why it is uncomfortable. Together with similar adjacent rooms, these wall-to-wall windows produced a long ribbon window on the exterior.

So it’s not enough just to punch a hole in your wall: to avoid the dark cave means more glass than you might have thought: and  glass especially going to the corners, so light can fully wash the internal walls.  (And feel free to even take the glass round onto the next wall plane itself to fully open up your corners!)


And bear this in mind when you’re hanging your curtains: make sure you have enough curtain rail to take all of your curtains well past their window when they’re open, and to draw them away from any adjacent wall lest they remain and cast the very shadow you’re trying to avoid.

Notice too that the exterior effect (the long ribbon window) is produced by the interior purpose, that purpose being to avoid glare and dark corners, and fully open up the space to nature outside the glass. This connection, Neutra believed and neuroscience has since confirmed, is essential for human health and well-being.

Bear in mind too, especially if fitting blinds, that because the brightest part of the ‘sky dome’ is directly above us, we will get most of our light through the window’s top-third, so unless you do want that dark cave you’d best avoid having your blinds bunch up at the top of your window.


So what about the colour of your windows, and the window walls? Does perception play a part in suggesting how to handle these? Sure does: to minimise the contrast between the outside brightness and the shadow unavoidably cast on the inside of your window joinery, Neutra always favoured the light-reflecting colour of silver. But for his window-walls themselves, something much richer:

The walls below Neutra’s continuous windows might have built-in cabinetry or in a colour different than the white side walls, perhaps the favorite colour of a child occupant. If white paint were to be used below the windows as on the side walls, that low band of paint would actually appear to look dirty because less light is being reflected there. However, because using a colour could detract from the view outdoors, which was his invariable goal because it promised the most actual health benefit, he did this on an individual basis. Ideally, his choice for this lower band was his chocolate “Neutra Brown.” This particular brown, it seems to me, is a “magic colour” in that the eye identifies it but does not attempt to focus on it, so its use is oddly comforting, as I have experienced.
    Any post in this extended bank of windows was usually painted silver, another “magic” colour. It created the least amount of contrast with the incoming light, and it almost made any post disappear to create openness. Again, expansiveness! Additionally, Neutra ensured that any vertical sliding door jamb would be hidden on the exterior side of a post or wall. Likewise, he concealed the horizontal head of such door so that it was hidden within or behind the roof framing. Again, openness, rather than a sliding door frame silhouetted within the structural frame, which would pose another obstruction to our view of the outdoors. It is an experience so subtle that it is not seen other than subliminally.
    All this gives us the “Neutra impact.” We do not look at his windows, we look through them.

That’s the reward of we get it all right: by starting from the inside out, letting the function dictate the form.

I hope this Mini-Tutorial has helped you see the placement and colour of your windows rather differently.

Feel free to check out all the other Architectural Mini-Tutorials for more fresh ways to see architecture.


* * *  Pics used show Richard Neutra’s Hailey House, pics by Angeleno Living. Text quoted from Barbara Lamprecht’s wonderful Neutra blog.