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Theres Glass between Us: A critical examination of the window in art and
architecture from Ancient Greece to the present day
Duncan P. R. Patterson
Designer at KAVE Architects, Toronto, Canada

Abstract In the following essay the window, located in the mundane middle-ground
of architecture and thus often ignored, is examined in detail through the examples of
a series of cultural artifacts. This is part of a larger general project to investigate, in a
serious, critical manner, the overlooked stuff of architecture. Following the example
of Bachelards seminal 1958 work The Poetics of Space, the essay draws upon a series of
examples drawn from the history of Western art and architecture, from Ancient
Greece to the present day, in order to make its arguments about the role the window
plays in the world, specifically the way in which it mediates between interior and
exterior. It then turns from these claims to make forward-looking remarks about the
future of the window.

Keywords Window, House, Mundane Middle-ground, Mediation, Threshold,


Significant Surface

Introduction largely been ignored by architectural


theory, which traditionally focuses on
The following paper addresses what is either scientifically wrought technical
at first a rather surprising question: details or broadly conceived processes,
what is a window? The reason this is gestures or concepts. It is my belief,
surprising is because one would think however, that this worldly realm of
that this was fairly well established things, while often overlooked, is also,
terrain. The window is one of the I believe, of crucial importance within
most commonplace elements in the a posthumanist paradigm. Surely
built environment, after all. It seems, once we have recognized that the
however, that the simple category of human self is neither a universal nor
window has been never carefully a stable entity (Rorty, 1991), but a
parsed on its own. flexible assemblage of forces highly
dependent upon its context, the
The reason for this lack of scrutiny is importance of the non-human things,
that the window is a category of such as those that populate the
architectural element, like the wall, the mundane middle-ground of
ceiling, the door, or the stair, that architecture, becomes strikingly
finds itself in what I would like to call evident.
the mundane middle-ground of
architecture. This middle-ground has

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2011 by Newcastle University. All rights reserved.
1354-5019-2009-01
Theres glass between us

The current investigation of the necessary to the production of art that


window, then, is part of a larger can take one closer to the things
project to investigate the middle- themselves than other modes of
ground of architecture, to expose it, thinking. This observation shall be
not in its instrumental value to us, integral to what strategy there is to
which is how it is normally discussed, what follows, as I review the house
but as the geographers Braun and from an architectural and art historical
Whatmore recently put it, in its perspective, attempting to distill
constitutive powers (Braun et al, 2010). nuggets of wisdom about it.
Thus the project is to investigate not
just how the mundane assists us, from What a window is
a use perspective, but participates in
our daily becoming, in our Although Bachelard would never have
confrontation and negotiation with put it this way, the house is a
the world. container for a particular set of
ecologies: environmental ecologies,
The house being the natural domain social ecologies, and mental ecologies
of the mundane, this is where the (Guattari, 2005). Thus, the perimeter
project begins. And where better to of the house is that which stands
start our investigation then than with between these ecologies, the included
the worlds greatest philosopher of the ecologies, and external, excluded
house, Gaston Bachelard and his ecologies. This perimeter is mostly
famous 1950s examination of space impermeable, except for a number of
through its representation, The Poetics points of permeation, including
of Space (1958). In this work Bachelard intercoms, televisions, air conditioning
made a couple of claims that will be intake and exhaust, etc., but mostly
very useful in the essay that follows: windows and doors. Windows differ
first, that the house is an instrument from doors because they are mainly
with which to confront the for visual permeation and do not
cosmos,(Bachelard, 1994:46) and readily admit passage.
second, that poets and painters are
born phenomenologists (Bachelard, Windows are thus important
1994:xxiii). I take this first mediators between the inside and the
observation to imply that there is outside between the mental, social,
something special about the house and environmental ecologies within,
amongst other buildings for us, on an and those without. This mediation
existential level, a notion that I see as can take many forms, but three
being consistent with my initial primary types that the window
observation of the importance of the participates in are as follows:
mundane. I take this second definition, by which the interior is
observation to imply that there is defined relative to the exterior, and
something in the poetic thinking vice versa; revelation, by which the

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Patterson

one side is cast as hopeful and filled 1996:63). Through these casement
with possibility relative to the other; windows, the imagined bermensch
and surveillance, by which the one looks down over the city. His view
floods out over the city, and the city
enters the apartment, becomes part of
the apartment. As he casts his
benevolent gaze over it, it becomes his
city, next to his Saarinen chair, and his
back-lit globe. This is about personal
territory, and the city, seen small
through the window, is part of that
territory. This window, then, is a
window of surveillance, and a window
Figure 1 Playboy Bachelor Pad of domination.

side is visually dominated and For another notable example of this


consumed by the other. type of window we may recall
Heidegger sitting at his desk in the
In the famous description of the Black Forest. He looked out over the
Playboy bachelor apartment re-printed valley with its villagers down there.
in Joel Sanders Stud (1996), a As Bachelard once commented, a
surprising level of attention is in fact philosopher of domination sees the
paid to the windows. This seems odd universe in miniature. Everything is
given the nature of the design, a small because he is so high
luxurious playground for a wealthy
man-boy. You would expect it to
focus on the space as personal
territory and on gadgetry, which it also
does. Nonetheless, from the very
outset of the description the windows
take a position of prominence in the
description: coming down the
hallway, we are able to view the entire
width of the apartment and through
the open casements, see the terrace
and the winking towers of the city
beyond (Sanders, 1996:57). Later,
describing the bedroom (figure1), the
writer goes on to say, casement
windows stretch across one entire
wall, framing an ever-changing, living
mural of our mans city (Sanders,

Figure 2 Woman at a Window, Caspar


David Friedrich (1822)

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(Bachelard, 1994:173). Heideggers


window too was a window of
domination. Through the window the
world lay before him ready to be
thought.

But there are other ways of looking


out the window than with a
dominating gaze. A view through a
window can be an anchor, or it can be
a skyhook, for instance, either
grounding us in the real world of the
quotidian, or saving us from our
drudgery. The window in Caspar
David Friedrichs Woman at a Window Figure 3 Sunday Morning no.2, Jack
Chambers (1970)
(figure 2) for instance is clearly a
different sort of window from that of
type of window, is the window of the
our playboy. The interior, which after
dreamer the window of revelation.
all occupies most of the canvas, is dark
and dull. The womans dress matches
The third type of window is the
the wood paneling, her body blending
window of the Canadian painter Jack
with the architecture. Her body could
Chambers. Chambers often focused
be just another articulation of the wall,
his work on depictions of (sub)urban
a fancy piece of trim, her dress the
North American interiors (see figure
drapes she is fully associated with
3). His paintings are unfailingly
what we presume to be her house,
uncanny, simultaneously familiar and
similar to the title character in James
hauntingly alien. What we can learn
Joyces Eveline. And, like Eveline, she
from his work here is the importance
gazes out the window. Outside, the
of the window in establishing an
world is pointedly colourful, and this
interior environment. His interiors
gradient, from the drab interior to the
literally depend on the exterior, which
colourful exterior, is mapped on the
give value to them. His exteriors,
body of the woman: her shoulders,
revealed through these windows, are
silhouetted in the window, are lit up
big, bright, and cold-looking. The
by the light beyond. This window is a
interiors, the simple geometric
portal into another world. We see the
volumes of which are clearly legible,
masts of two ships, symbols of
are lit solely by the light from this big,
dreams, of departures, of travel to
bright outside, a trope consistent with
other places, of excitement. The
his metaphysical belief in light as the
womans head is slightly cocked in
principle of intelligibility (Elder,
curiousity. This window, our second
1989:350). Chambers window is what
I would like to call the window of

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Patterson

definition, the window that delineates and the interior world are produced
the boundary of the room and simultaneously as they communicate
positions the interior in relation to the back and forth, in part through the
exterior. window. If we ourselves can be
thought of as ecologies within larger
ecologies (Guattari, 2005), bounded
Threshold and Hearth by the house, communicating through
our sense organs and our various
The interior technically needs the languages, then the window is an
exterior in order to exist, and vice important means by which this inner
versa: they define one another. The ecosystem then interacts with the
threshold, as Mark Kingwell has larger ones. In addition to the
pointed out, is neither outside nor window, we can think of the door and
inside; rather, in setting the limit several other orifices (including the
between them, it partakes of both telephone, the air conditioning
(Kingwell, 2006:91). Unlike other exhaust, and books) as other means by
members of the middle-ground of the which this interaction may take place.
house, such as hearths and toilets and
tables and beds, thresholds are not The boundary of the house, like the
places, they are media. And windows boundary of the city, represents the
are complicated thresholds they let age-old boundary between the natural
us see both inside and outside and the artificial, a boundary that is
together as they engage in their for instance acknowledged in the
reciprocal genesis. To borrow northern European tradition of
Dagnognets words, the window bringing the Christmas tree in, across
represents something of a fertile nexus the threshold (Kingwell, 2006). The
between ecologies (Galloway, 2006). window is thus a primary metaphor
Windows blur the boundary, bringing for our relation to the natural, and
the inside out and the outside in. It is the character of that relationship is
customary to think of the eye as the always implied by its design.
window to the soul and likewise the Heideggers relationship to the
window is the eye of the building mountains from which he drew
(after all our word derives from the majestic power was constructed by a
old Norse word vindauga, meaning window. And in addition to being the
wind-eye1. It is also, however, the interface between the ecosystem of
language of the building being both the house and natural ecosystems, it is
the means of perception and of also where we see our neighbours, our
expression. In the same way that the fellow citizens, and where they see us.
self can be thought of as being Larger social ecosystems are also
constantly engaged in a process of engaged through the window.
ontogenesis reciprocal with the world Fragments of the space of appearance2
without, similarly, the exterior world are framed everywhere there is a

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window, small potential revelations of force of the window and the


who we are, available for popular centripetal force of the hearth. With
consumption. These temporary Hestia and Hermes we have in fact a
revelations are examples of the parti of a house; we have a centre
predetermined crossings of and a perimeter, closely tied together
boundaries implied by the very but just far enough apart for dwelling
existence of the boundaries in the first to occur between.
place. All boundaries are meant to be
transgressed, their transgression in If we follow Bachelard and agree that
fact necessitated by their manufacture. the world is understood through the
Every limit, as Kingwell has put it, house, this is partially from the
is also its own negation (Kingwell, understanding that it is within the
2006:91). The permeability of the environment of the house that we
window is important, then. It is imagine and that we re-member the
ethically important. Who transgresses world. But through mediating
and how, visually, acoustically and thresholds like the door, the
physically, inwards and outwards, is telephone, the book, and the window,
important in establishing the relations the world is quite literally perceived
between individuals, between the and our mental ecology affected. If
small group and the larger group, and our window is pink, the world outside
relations with natural systems. will literally be la vie en rose to us.
No matter what type of window, if it
In the Hellenic imagination, this is dirty and yellowed, the world will
threshold was associated with the god look squalid to us, and we will look
Hermes, who, incidentally, was the soiled to those looking in. The
mythological counterpart to Hestia, window is thus a key lens of our
goddess of the hearth (Vernant, 1983). subjectivity.
While Hestia represents stability,
Hermes is a wandering god The Gothic Window
(Vernant, 1983:129); he is the
messenger god, the god of travels, and As human dwellings first evolved the
the god of chance. In the Greek problem would have naturally been
pantheon, these two gods stand probably less how to make holes for
together, the two deities closest to our light and ventilation as it was how to
human domain, one holding while the decrease the level of exposure.
other pulls. The pairing of these two Primitive huts would have mostly
can teach us something about the been window at first, walls coming
house, or at least how it was figured in later. When masonry buildings came
the Greek imagination. It is in the along, we developed two ways of
tension of these two principals that making an aperture, either through the
domestic life unfolds. In the house use of a lintel or the use of an arch.
we are caught between the centrifugal Large enough lintels being often hard

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Patterson

to come by and arches fairly difficult told particular stories, drawn from
to make, windows in masonry sacred texts, but some, such as rose
buildings were therefore often small, windows, told their stories simply
especially in large buildings where the through their geometry. Everything is
load resting on the wall was great. static and in its place in a rose
Despite the connection made in window. The centre is solid and it
medieval Catholicism, especially the relates consistently to the boundary.
Benedictine order, between light and And nothing exists outside of the
God, up until 12th century churches boundary.
could only have very small windows. The gothic window afforded a very
Interiors were dark and inward- high level of mediation, transforming
looking. With the structural what passed in through the window
innovations of the 12th century, completely from reflected light of
however, especially the invention of what would otherwise be perceived as
the flying buttress, a lot of the load images of the real world to light
could be transferred away from the carefully harnessed to a particular
wall-proper, allowing for much larger politico-religious agenda. When
expanses of glass (ibid, 12). With thinking of the role that the window
these innovations the metaphorical plays in our day-to-day life, this is
qualities of light could be fully taken important to keep in mind. Windows
advantage of in the church interior. are rarely simple transmissions of
Gothic architecture brought large what is, but are often in fact highly
panels of coloured glass, separated manipulated renditions of it.
and supported by thin, moulded
tracery. As the light filtered through Alberti, Drer
these panes into the otherwise dark
interiors, it was as if God himself was In his text of 1435, De Pittura, Leon
majestically entering the church, Battista Alberti described the painting
through the window. The rules of canvas as a window. First of all, he
permeability of such windows were wrote, on the surface on which I am
quite clear. One thing could cross the going to paint, I draw a rectangle of
boundary in an inwards direction and whatever size I want, which I regard
that was light, which was divine. As as an open window through which the
light came in, all of its characteristics subject to be painted is seen (Alberti,
were structured by the window to tell 1966:54). The act of painting, for
a particular message. Vision stopped Alberti, was like opening a window
at the window, both on the inside and into another world, initiated by that
on the outside. What was being primal act of marking its boundary.
interfaced with through the window The window was being used as a
was not the environment immediately metaphor for objectivity, and the
outside, but a powerful mythical world application of this metaphor to the
structure. Many of these windows manufactured painting was a way of

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lending it that same authority. What to behave like paintings; we are going
the painter saw through this imaginary to want the objectivity of the
window was to be a true description painting for ourselves, when we in fact
of what was. know both painting and window to be
subjective media. A real window
Notably, the rectangle, which frames our partial view it does not
traditionally frames both windows and remove us from our situated
paintings, is not a naturally occurring perspective within our enclosed
shape. The orthogonal is, however, ecologies. It frames our view out.
implied both by the perpendicularity
of the earths surface to the path of The sorts of murals that were
gravity and by human verticality. The common in the Renaissance, and
rectangle can thus be said to be the found their extension into the 19th
shape of removal from the earth, of century in the form of panoramic
technes, of construction and dwelling wallpaper constituted windows into
apart; it is the shape of utility, and fixed, idealized landscapes. The
thus of the faculty that we have come picturesque tradition in landscape
to call reason. As Juan Eduardo Cirlot design is of course the rather perverse
notes in his mid-twentieth-century flip side of this. Real windows, unlike
analysis of symbols, at all times and paintings, are not fixed, a fact attested
in all places, it has been the shape to by Leonardo da Vincis
favoured by man when preparing any recommendation that when using a
space or object for immediate use in pane of glass as a tool in constructing
life (Cirlot, 1962:272). When Alberti perspective, following Alberti, we
described the painting as the should actually mechanically constrict
intersection of a visual pyramid at a the movement of our heads
given distance, (Alberti, 1966:48), he (Friedberg, 2006). In Albertis (and da
imagined a pyramid of vision Vincis) imagination, the objective
extending out from him, as if, instead window viewer is constructed as
of having two round eyes, he in fact cyclopean, square-eyed, and static.
had one square one! If the window is
the metaphor for the painting, we are Using a pane of glass gridded with
going to expect in turn our windows lines as a medium for objectively

Figure 4 etching from Underweysung der Messung, Albrecht Drer, 1538

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determining the relative size of things


is a boon for accurately reproducing
the view from a given point, for
perfecting the art of perspectival
representation. But today it is hard
not to see this cold act of accurately
metering out your subject matter as
an act of domination, as an enactment
of the desire to control. This is
indeed a paradigmatic example of the
connection between our struggle to
break from our subjectivity and
domination. Albrecht Drers famous
woodcut of 1538, from Underweysung
der Messung (figure 4) illustrates this
well. The artists removal from the
sensuous display before him is Figure 5 La Condition Humaine, Ren
disconcerting. Somehow this artist, Magritte, 1933
seeing the world through his regular
matrix, has removed himself from of the obelisk and the artists posture
such things. On one side of the is mimicked in the potted plant: the
illustration, the table contains a instrumental manipulation of nature.
landscape of female flesh; on the
other side of the illustration, translated Magritte, Hopper
through the alchemy of a window, she
has been replaced by a flat grid, not Of the many artists available to us in
unlike a chessboard. The window is a the pursuit of this discussion of
medium, and as a medium it mediates. windowness, two twentieth century
A gridded window is clearly a window painters should prove especially
of domination. useful, Ren Magritte and Edward
Hopper, although for different
Behind this curvaceous subject matter reasons. In Magrittes window
in Drers woodcut is an open paintings he consciously plays with the
window. Seen through this window is notion of mediation and the
a rolling, natural landscape. On the relationship between windows and
other side of the illustration, separated paintings that Alberti initiated. His La
by the gridded window, behind Condition humaine (figure 5), for
Drers scientist-artist with his instance depicts a typical interior
obelisk, we see a potted plant. On the with two heavy curtains hanging on
one side we have horizontality, either side of a window. Out the
associated with leisure, perhaps even window we see a pastoral scene with
sloth; on the other side the verticality green grass, a road, and some trees.

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In the centre of the view rises a painting too is kind of like a threshold.
specific individual tree, separate from As soon as you let yourself be carried
the rest. If the view from the window away by it, it can give you access to
were a painting, the tree would seem another world beyond. In the 1930s,
to be the focus. Except, we can only when Magritte painted La Condition
assume that that tree is outside of that humaine, photography had become
window: the view itself is obscured by relatively mainstream and films were
a painting of the view depicting the in ascendance, increasingly accessible
tree (what we might call p2). The to the common man as an available
pictorial content of this painting is form of entertainment. This painting,
rendered in exactly the same manner, along with many of Magrittes other
and from the same perspective, as the works, can be seen as a response to
view. Because the same hand has the capacity of these media to imitate
rendered both p1 and p2, our eye is reality and behave, basically, as
pleasantly confused, going back and thresholds. Magritte has a knack of
forth between the real view and the playing tricks with the viewers
view as rendered in p2. We will never expectations. In this case he is
know if there was really a tree outside reminding us that the distinction
of that window, or if it was purely the between significant surface and
fantasy of the evil genii who painted threshold is not always clear and to
the second painting. And, following always interrogate the line between
the paranoid logic of the painting, them, an insight even more important
there is furthermore no reason to today than it was then.
believe that there is a view at all. The
content of this painting could in fact Hopper had a somewhat different
be just a painting sitting in front of approach to windows. While both
another painting! Magritte is painters are compelling in their
effectively going in the exact opposite intelligent artificiality, declaring their
direction from Alberti. Rather than paints as surfaces not thresholds,
saying the painting is like a window, Hoppers images are often shadowed
he says is the window not also like a with melancholy. Magrittes windows,
painting? How objective is our view? with their big blue skies dotted with
impossibly fluffy clouds are similar to
Magrittes painting raises the problem what we called earlier a window of
of what might be called the the revelation. The clouds though are
threshold vs. the significant surface exactly that impossible. Their
(Galloway, 2008). A painting is a type artifice unveils them. Hopper renders
of significant surface, a surface upon both dream-laden windows of
which we read a play of signifiers. revelation, such as Rooms by the Sea
Windows and doors, on the other (1951), or Morning Sun (1952) as well
hand, are thresholds. But there is a as windows of definition. But what
way in which Alberti was right and a differentiates Hoppers windows of

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particularly strong means of


representing this. As Cirlot observes
in his voluminous dictionary of
symbols, windows express ideas of
both potential and of distance (Cirlot,
1962), and in works such as Sunday
Morning or Cape Cod Morning (figure 6),
Hopper manages to evoke both.
Windows can both promise
connection and can indeed separate us
from things, whether we are outside
looking in, or inside looking out, like
Figure 6 - Cape Cod Morning, Edward
Friedrichs woman.
Hopper, 1950

definition from Chambers is that as Le Corbusier and Eileen Gray


often as not they are in fact observed
from the outside, as in his famous As we have seen with the gothic
Nighthawks of 1942, or in his earlier window and invention of the flying
Night Windows of 1928. buttress, the character of our windows
Bachelard has observed that the has always been closely related to the
illuminated house, seen at night, structural qualities of our walls. In the
evokes the concentration of intimacy nineteenth century, the advances in
in the refuge, in its most simplified the production of cast iron allowed
form (Friedberg, 2006:37). This is designers like Joseph Paxton to make
what Hoppers paintings from the buildings that were practically all
outside looking inwards are about. window. In the twentieth century it
These refuges are defined by their was innovations with reinforced
relation to the exterior. In Nighthawks concrete that made Le Corbusiers
for instance, the room would not be controversial long, horizontal
the comforting space it seems to be if windows possible.
it werent defined against forbidding
darkness. Simultaneously, the
darkness would not seem quite so
forbidding if it werent held up against
such a refuge. So, through their
permeability to vision windows can
offer their stories, defined in relation
to the exterior.

A motif that is practically omnipresent


in Hoppers paintings is the feeling of Figure 7 Le Corbusiers strip window at Villa
alienation. Windows often give him a Savoye, 1931

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Le Corbusiers strip windows, such as the foreground all we are left with is
are in evidence at Villa Savoye (see the interior itself and that which is far
figure 7), were a direct rejection of away, the horizon if were lucky. The
typical vertical windows. He agreed traditional perspectival view, such as
that the shape of the window had we are used to seeing in paintings, is
historically been closely connected to thus undermined. As Corbusier
the structure of the wall, and himself wrote, the horizontal gaze
therefore, as the structure of the wall leads far away (Colomina, 2005:89).
changed, he figured so should the The view is totalized; it is spread out,
shape of the window (Baillieu, 2003). allowing the viewer to take in the
Reinforced concrete provided him heroic long-view, in a sweeping
with the freedom to experiment. glance, without having to worry about
Horizontal windows, however, the quotidian below. The strip
completely change our relationship window is decidedly a window of
with perspective. As we explored surveillance and domination.
earlier, the painting as we know it was
influenced by the shape of the While the windows Le Corbusier
window and in turn the window placed in his cabanon in Roquebrune-
influenced by the painting. A Cap Martin may seem humble, they
window, however, only resembles a are also windows of surveillance.
painting so long as the viewer remains Although they might seem at first to
static. As soon as the viewer moves in be paradigmatically subjective because
relation to the frame of the window, of their diminutive size, i.e. rapidly
the image changes the smaller the changing their content as you look at
window, the greater the change. The them from different angles, the fact
view through a very narrow window that they are only intended to be seen
looks completely different to two through when you get up close to
people standing side-by-side. When them means that you can actually see
the window expands horizontally quite a lot from them without having
across the whole breadth of the wall, to move much. When Le Corbusier
this effect is practically erased. Our was standing, the main square window
relationship with the outside does facing the sea was designed to frame
not change nearly as dramatically now his head and shoulders perfectly.
when we move along the length of the And, symbolically, squares are not
wall. The horizontal window is thus a humble. Far from it, as Cirlot
generalization of the view, eliminating comments, a square implies tense
what we might call the partial domination born of an abstract
perspective of the vertical window.3 longing for power (Cirlot, 1962:272).
This is further accomplished, as The window of the cabanon is the
Reichlin has pointed out, by the square eye of objectivity, taking in the
editing out of the foreground of the whole view at once.
view (Friedberg, 2006), for without

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slippages and holes that distinguish it


from a pure Corbusian design (see
figure 8). As Leslie Weisman reports,
her use of three types of windows
sliding and folding, pivoting, and
double-hung combined with
movable shutters, louvers and canvas
awnings, allow light, air, and
temperature to be modulated finely
and subtly during different seasons of
the year. While she did employ
horizontal windows, they were fitted
with vertical panes of glass calibrated
in size and shape to respond to the
Figure 8 Ingenious skylight at Eileen Grays
Tempe a Pailla, 1934
dimensions of the human body. In
addition, far from Corbusiers pristine
In contrast, the windows designed by voids such as those at Villa Savoye,
Eileen Gray for her E.1027, literally a she covered her horizontal windows
stones throw from the cabanon, are of with operable shutters. As she put it
a very different nature from those herself, a window without shutters is
designed by Le Corbusier. Gray was like an eye without eyelids.4 Through
far more interested than Corb in these innovations, Gray effectively
designing for the peculiarities and layered the Modern strip window with
unpredictability of the human apparatus allowing for personal
condition. As she declared, in an appropriation through physical
apparently direct attack on his work, engagement, thus permitting a certain
formulas are nothing, life is degree of controlled subjectivity. The
everything I want to develop these occupant of E.1027 can make their
formulas and push them to the point own relationship with the outside as
where they re-establish contact with they wish. Grays windows afford a
life, to enrich them and incorporate sort of controlled partiality.
reality within their abstraction (Gray,
2000:239). While much of her design The Glass Wall
was Corb-inspired, her windows were
clearly a point of departure. As Sylvia While reinforced concrete allowed for
Lavin has remarked, E.1027 is strip windows to evolve, the rapid
riddled with what might be called advances in the nineteenth and
secret passages, hidden escape routes twentieth centuries in learning to build
that have little to do with with steel made it possible to reduce
conventional windows and doors the entire wall to a window if one
(Lavin, 1996:187). And indeed the wished. In houses like Mies Van der
building is filled with clever little Rohes Farnsworth House (figure 9)

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window. It was framed. An all-glass


curtain wall turns all of this on its
head. As Pallasmaa wisely opined, a
glass wall weakens the essential
tension between the home and world
(Pallasmaa, 2005:12). The
transgression of the boundary by light
and vision has been maximized while
physical and acoustical transgression
has been relegated to the door and the
Figure 9 Glass wall at Mies Van der Rohes air-handling system. Apparently the
Farnsworth House, 1951 visual has been privileged well above
the other senses. This would seem
and Philip Johnsons Glass House like a dangerous mistake. Compared
(1949) this is exactly what happened. to the other senses, the eye is both
These houses are clear, table-like wilful and greedy. As the cultural
buildings with a few key objects geographer Yi-Fu Tuan put it neatly,
placed in them to organize the spaces. the desire for a picture window and
They are then wrapped in glass, for the expansive view, such as is
putting the inhabitants and the social clearly in evidence in a glass house,
ecosystem in close proximity to the suggests a need not only to
ecosystems without. From the command space but to see into the
laboriously made wind-eyes of the future and command time.5 And
middle-ages, through standard vertical again here we encounter the relation
windows in masonry opening, to strip between the window and domination.
windows framed by cast concrete In a glass house like Johnsons or
the development of the window Mies the window has been
culminates in the glass house a true obliterated to the point that all youre
victory for the window! left with is a plane that facilitates the
visual consumption of the outdoors.
Or is it? Is the wall of a glass house While it may promise the opposite, a
just one big window? Or is it perhaps glass house in the end is a chamber of
just a transparent wall, without any alienation, possibly the very reason
windows at all. The window had, up why both Johnson and Mies anchored
until this point, always been defined their houses with such solid centres.
through its distinction from the wall.
The wall was the impermeable Paradoxically, then, glass houses,
boundary of the interior while the rather than being celebrations of the
window was the point of permeation, window, actually dont have any! In
where the interior and exterior leaked showing all, mystery is lost, and
into one another. This leakage was mystery is essential to intimacy. The
controlled within the zone of the values of both interior and exterior as

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interior and exterior erode as the


boundary between them erodes. You
need to be able to sit, thoughtfully, at
windows (Bachelard, 1994). You
wouldnt sit at a glass wall.
Fundamentally, the glass wall makes
the value of this act of sitting at the
threshold inert by disposing of the
complexity which is so important to
the window.

The Place of Window

While the window is not a place but a


medium, the places that are actually at
this medium are highly charged sites.
This is largely due to the complex
interaction that occurs there. Both
interior and exterior are defined,
questions of sociability and
subjectivity are negotiated. When a
pie is placed on a window sill to cool,
a statement is being made about the
relative safety of that pie. Many of us Figure 10 Plans of Alison and Peter
wouldnt place a pie on our windowsill Smithsons Hexenhouse, 1986-2002
because it might get dirty from the
exhaust fumes in the street, or eaten
by a dog. Many of us also couldnt
put a pie on our windowsill because
the window has been painted shut, or
there is a screen in the way, both of
which are also highly significant.
People living in towers are unlikely to
have large enough sills to rest a pie on.
Similarly, if a miscreant was to come
and steal said pie (a true feat for those
of us living in towers), this would also
constitute a highly significant
statement. The liminal places of our
windows, including window sills and
window seats, are important sites.

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If you were looking for a good with window. Instead, the Smithsons
example of a house that has created new window places where the
maximized the place of window, one inhabitant might dwell.6
could hardly do better than Alison and
Peter Smithsons Hexenhaus (figure I think this move is important, and
10). Although the house began as a should be thought of in counterpoint
fairly conventional gabled country to the glass houses of Mies and
home in Germany, through many Johnson. The glass house represents
years of close collaboration between essentially the self-defeating climax of
the owner and the architects it the domestic window. The reasons
eventually grew into something quite for cladding your entire house in
different entirely. And the word window are more or less what we have
grew is apt here, for in addition to been looking at so far in this essay.
the long cumulative nature of the The window is a fertile nexus between
transformation, the additions executed the outside and the inside, in which
by the Smithsons are literally like the exterior and the interior co-exist
growths protruding out from the and participate in each others
building, like symbiotic fungi that becoming. The attraction of the glass
both feed off the energy of the house house is precisely that the window is
and effectively energize the life within. where the boundaries between inside
Additions include: a large triangulated and outside (and thus private and
multi-purpose verandah incorporating public) are blurred. The desire seems
both a triangular couch and a nook to be the erasure of the boundary
with a glass floor for the owners cat entirely, a notion that may remind us
to watch the mice below; a large bay of that great nugget of wisdom from
window with a lowered glass floor and Donna Haraways Cyborg Manifesto:
built-in seats; three more such that while we should take pleasure in
window-growths; a second verandah; the confusion of boundaries, we
and most spectacularly of all, a new must be sure to also take
room, raised high up in the air on responsibility in their construction
stilts and connected to the bathroom (Haraway, 1991:150). This is where I
on the second floor by a bridge. think the glass house lets us down. It
These altered windows, and doors, does not take the boundary seriously
explode out from the conservative and thus misses out on its potential.
domesticity of the original house,
creating new opportunities to inhabit The Technologized Window
the boundary. They satisfy the
owners desire to experience the The screens of our computers are not
outside environment more intensely simple significant surfaces, as they
from inside without resorting to the sometimes seem, but are thresholds
increasingly conventional brash too. Even more complexly, beyond
replacement of an exterior wall purely these windows we encounter many

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other sorts of windows as well, screen, the software architecture that


windows through which we may structures our online world7. If I can
interact with a new sort of dislocated see a friend through a computer
exterior (see figure 11). While our window, I see them in relation to that
primary user interfaces are normally window.
thought of as being desktops, in order
to access information we must open a One witty play on the relationship
window. These extremely between these rapidly proliferating
complicated windows invite all kinds virtual windows and the traditional
of new issues, but many of the same windows which give us sensorial
issues that we have been discussing so access to the environmental and social
far still apply. Different sorts of ecosystems physically adjacent to our
interaction can occur with the virtual houses is Diller + Scofidios Slow
worlds accessible through our House (1990). D+S designed the Slow
computers. Our gaze can still be House, a country retreat on Long
dominant, or it can be the gaze of the Island, so that the whole building
dreamer, fawning after potential. The would act as a teasing lead-up to the
computer screen can absorb all of our spectacular view. When, however, the

Figure 11 Continuous Divided Attention, by author, 2009

attention or it can become a more visitor reaches the room with the
passive window of definition against view, they find it obscured by a TV
which we evolve our more immediate monitor displaying the same thing as
social ecosystems. Computer screens is visible through the window. Its a
are in fact the frames through which similar trick to that performed by
vital relations are constructed. We are Magritte in La Condition Humaine,
who we are in relation to others, and except this time in architecture, not in
if those relations are established pictorial representation and without
through a computer screen, that any real attempt at illusion. D+S give
screen partakes in that process. The the visitor a choice: would they rather
same goes for the windows within the look at the view through one window

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or the other? The image in one of the ventilation. Light could be


windows (or is it a significant surface?) transmitted in without the need to
has been marred by the capturing, also provide a visual connection.
codification, and reconstituting of the Perhaps then the window of the
image, but, people do like watching future is made as you wish, when you
TV. want it, similar to the flexibility
afforded by Eileen Grays windows
Concluding Remarks: The but ramped up. In such windows the
Window of the Future occupant would have complete
immediate control over how they
So what then is the future of the related to the environment and to the
window? What can we take away public space of appearance. In such a
from this investigation that can aid us responsive wall-window, the
in designing this element of the permeability between ecologies which
mundane middle-ground? Given was identified earlier as being of
contemporary technology, one can ethical importance could be minutely
easily imagine the several functions configured as the occupant saw fit.
served by the window separated, However, a wall-window with
miniaturized, and dispersed such that adjustable opacity does away with the
what we have been calling a window frame and in so doing something of
here thus far really no longer exists. the poetics of the window too could
One could imagine a window as a wall be lost. It also loses the potential for
with shifting transparency, for the window to be a place of
instance, and location-specific inhabitation behaving essentially like

Figure 12 Window II, by author, 2009

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a glass wall. Perhaps the window of of news. In such a scenario, you


the future then could be a gathered might even walk to the window to
site of subjectification in which the check your mail.
functions of the traditional window
and the digital screen begin to merge. The value of such a window would be
If the window was also a computer in its gathering of functions. Rather
screen, the window could become than a hundred small windows,
once again the primary means in the computer screens, smartphone
house of interfacing with larger and screens, etc, scattered about the
adjacent ecologies. By gathering these house, which has somewhat the same
interfaces into a select series of deleterious effect as a glass wall, such
locations, it would then reduce their a window would presuppose a
potential to fragment and dilute the deliberate and direct relationship
value of interior space and render between interior and exterior.
subjectification more deliberate.
So this element of the mundane
Perhaps this window of the future middle-ground will persist in no doubt
could also allow for an inhabitation of increasing diversity. I have attempted
the perimeter of the house, not just to reveal here some of the ways in
the physical perimeter but also the which the window participates in our
virtual perimeter (see figure 12). It world, specifically with regard to
could give you access to whats going mediation, that might normally have
on in the street outside, but maybe it gone overlooked. Hopefully these
could also give you more information comments have provided some insight
than the average window, such as a into what is important about these
view directly of the sky, or a view complicated thresholds, and what is
down the street. Maybe the view potentially problematic, so that
could be augmented with a satellite attention may be paid to these
image of the neighbourhood, or qualities in the design of future
meteorological data who knows? windows.
Such a window could provide you
with the traffic conditions and all sorts

Acknowledgments

The majority of this essay has previously been published in the form of a chapter of
a masters thesis at the University of Waterloo. I am deeply indebted to my
supervisor at that university, Doctor Anne Bordeleau for her ever-helpful advice.
Doctor Robert Jan van Pelt and Professor Philip Beesley both also provided useful
criticism through the early development of this piece.

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References

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Kingwell, M. (2006). Crossing The Threshold: Towards a philosophy of the


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Endnotes
1
Oxford English Dictionary, Window, http://www.oed.com.
2
This phrase originates from Hannah Arendt, The Human Condition (New York:
Doubleday, 1959).
3
This phrase originates from Donna Haraways essay, Situated Knowledges, in
Simians, Cyborgs, and Women (New York, New York: Routledge, 1991), 183-
201.
4
Quoted in Caroline Constant, Eileen Gray (London: Phaidon, 2000), 107
5
Quoted in Mark Kingwell, Crossing The Threshold: Towards a philosophy of the
interior, Queens Quarterly 113 (2006), 282.
6
All information on the Hexenhaus is from Alison and Peter Smithson: From
the House of the Future to a house of today, ed. by Dirk van den Heuvel
(Rotterdam: 010 Pub, 2004).
7
For more on this subject see Lawrence Lessigs Code: And other laws of cyberspace
(New York: Basic Books, 1999).

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