Post 247 – by Gautam Shah
For ages, seeing is implied in the word window, such as in auga = eye ( ‘vindauga’ mean a ‘wind eye’). It was replaced in old English eagþyrl, (eye-hole), and eagduru (eye-door).
Walls of a building demarcate two distinctive worlds of inside and outside, but walls being opaque only, one is experienced at a time, and the other is unseen, so ignored. Openings like doors and windows allow the connection between the two realms to be simultaneously live. The see-through unglazed or glazed opening allows a chance for deliberation, which in case of a window is less causative then a door. The door threshold, real or imaginary can be transgressed either way at will, but a window sill is not always trespass-able from outside. Few windows have known or hospitable terrain outside. Only thing that could come through a middle age backyard window was the stench of the garbage or the night-soil thrown out every day. The backyard window, facing mass of buildings had little to offer as a view, but replacing the louvres with a pane of glass did stop the stench.
The gaze in or out of a window, for many years, was not considered a great problem, as the casting-forming defects in the glass (and earlier mica or alabaster), made it fuzzy. The glass panes for the windows, even though muddled, were rare, costly and fragile. The cost and bother of their replacement was a major matter. The glass size was small, so needed framing by several muntins and mullions, making the entire glazed opening prone to sagging. Glazed openings were mainly used in public buildings or for rich mansions. These were the people who could afford frequent glass replacement, and when technology offered, replace it with clearer quality of glass.
15th C architect, sculptor, painter, and theorist Leon Battista Alberti, considered a painting to resemble a view out of a window. ‘First of all, on the surface on which I am going to paint, I draw a rectangle of whatever size I want, which I regard as an open window through which the subject to be painted is seen;…’ . Alberti formulated the method of one-point linear perspective for scene painting. The window frame defined the canvas to scale, form the depth as a meta screen.
This intimate connection of seeing, outside, airiness, of windows transforms into metaphoric perception, realization and ultimately to the soul. The tunnel end is an opening of relief, so is a window that manifests where none was expected. It is like a dream that is remembered on sudden opening of the eye. An opaque window is called a blind opening, and set of louvred slats are window blinds. All early versions of the Televisions and Computers had a very strong window frame and were called windows to the world. Radio remained without a frame, just a listening device. These similes somehow show a window to be switch-able, open and shut case (a simple and straightforward situation without complications). The curtain masking, film layering and metallizing of the glass are concealing what is on the inside.
In early Gothic buildings the day and night visions of the buildings were completely different. During daytime the interiors were brilliantly filled with colour, but the exterior face presented dull, almost flat, grey face of the glass, with very little perception of the colours of the stained glass. During night time, in the beginning phase, the building was even duller. But soon it began to be lit on inside by oil lamps and candles. Now the building on the outside had a colourful glow against the dark -street-lights less city scape. The glass became lighter coloured (Grisaille) and staining only selective, The oil lamps and candles, in large numbers, a created maintenance problem of soot removal. Private mansions began to have towers topped with a glass cage lit at night.
In the post Industrial revolution period the window became free of the wall as curtain wall, providing uninterrupted view in commercial buildings. Mies van der Rohe did the same thing for a dwelling in Farnsworth House. Le Corbusier in earlier phase used the glass as a grey surface, but in a later phase the glass becomes an unimportant feature, on the outside masked by architectonic elements like brise de soleil.
Windows for transactions in Banks, Post offices and Government departments were once pigeon holes in opaque walls, not allowing much visual exchange. This became glass fronts with pigeons’ holes, encouraging a visual exchange, later became across the table relationship, and now remote and internet connection. The window form has also turned from a little hole to a large glass pane wall, and behind a screen or communication window.