Windows – The History

Windows – The History

From our earliest times, the need for light has been central to our needs as humans. Light  allowed people to better perform tasks and navigate their surroundings, alerting them to the day’s cycle and keeping them in sync with it,something that we now understand is vital to human health and emotional health and wellbeing.

Windows are the eyes of a building which relate the outside world with the inside. It arranges and governs the light and thus sets the atmosphere of the interior. Further windows frame a beautiful view outside and create a moving picturesque portrait which can act as a backdrop to our daily activities.

Girl at the window Salvadore Dali
The girl at the window - Salvadore Dali

The windows of the home, as for Emily Dickinson, have become a poignant portal to the forbidden outside world. The poet Emily Dickinson rarely strayed beyond her garden hedge in Massachusetts, eventually confining herself to her bedroom.
I cannot walk to the distant friends on nights piercing as these’, she wrote to a friend in 1859, ‘so I put both hands on the window-pane, and try to think how birds fly, and imitate, and fail.

Windows are the fragile eyes of the house, which observe the world and inspect visitors’, Juhani Pallasmaa wrote in The Embodied Image. ‘Looking through the window, and thus connecting two realms, inside and outside, turns the image into an authentic architectural experience.
For Pallasmaa, Caspar David Friedrich’s Woman at a Window (1822) is ‘a supreme lesson for architects.’

woman at a window
Woman at a Window - Caspar David Friedrich

Windows are one of the most important elements of a building’s thermal envelope; providing aesthetics, letting in light, helping control sound, and serving as a means of natural ventilation.

Window is first recorded in the early 13th century, and originally referred to an unglazed hole in a roof. The history of windows is enmeshed in the history of architecture, and their evolving design is a tribute to not only architectural advancement, but to the progression of framing materials and glass manufacturing.


In England pre 16th century, most windows were of stone or timber construction.
Than Windows became larger, and more prosperous households used window size and extravagance as a means of displaying their wealth.

In the 17th century Europe, the Italian Renaissance had a strong influence on window shape; a trend that would make its way to England. Windows became taller than they were wide and were often divided into four by a mullion and transom. As timber frames came into fashion, the mullion and transom became narrower and glazing was placed near-flush with the exterior window face over the 18th century window size became more standardized.

The 19th century brought with it some experimentation in an effort to move away from simple grid-style arrangements. This included narrow margin lights that were often filled with coloured glass. Glazing bars also took on a curved shape to mimic Gothic design.

Le Corbusier’s ribbon window

The “ribbon window” was a term first coined by Le Corbusier in the 1920s in his Five Points of a New Architecture. By his definition, ribbon windows are horizontal cuts across entire façades allowing interior spaces to be equally lit. Not only do these windows allow rooms to be flooded with light, but they also create unencumbered views of the surrounding environment. Today, ribbon windows have become fairly common features in contemporary buildings.

ribbon window - le corbusier
Ribbon Window - Le Corbusier

The lush garden of Luis Barragán’s home in Mexico City (1948) appears to infiltrate the double-height living room through its enormous window, more like a glass wall with no window frame.

Lina Bo Bardi was frustrated that the trees she planted around her Casa de Vidro (1951) didn’t grow faster to fill its ribbon of windows. ‘This residence represents an attempt to arrive at a communion between nature and the natural order of things’, Bo Bardi wrote.
‘I look to respect this natural order, with clarity, and never liked the closed house that turns away from the thunderstorm and the rain, fearful of all men.’

The window makes malleable the boundary between inside and out.

Dritaret, banesa e Luis Barragán’s
Luis Barragán’s home in Mexico City (1948)


Pierre von Meiss says that “A window is a sign of life. It is equally uncomfortable to be in a house which bounds a public street with no window at all on the street. It is also an eye of the building allowing one to gaze at the outside world without been seen.”
Without a window the street looks dull and frightening.

Dritaret e banesës së Louis Khan
Louis Kahn's Fisher House Window (1967)

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