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Window Displays

An assortment of 130 examples of windows, WindowScape provides a welcome visual record which could benefit from more rigorous descriptions

It is often in the detailed design of its windows that the language, performance and formal quality of a building is most vividly represented. This collection of varied examples (about 130 of them) is therefore welcome, particularly since each is illustrated with both a photograph and an axonometric drawing. In  most cases, the drawing gives key horizontal and vertical dimensions, and makes it possible to understand in detail how the human figure relates to the window. Aalto once said to a student: ‘When you are designing a window, imagine your girlfriend looking out of it’, and to do so, the dimensions of eye, hip, elbow must be clearly related to the design.

The visual record is thus most welcome, but I have to say that I found the classification system and the accompanying text quite mystifying. This may partly be the result of research done by a number of students in different parts of the world; it may occasionally be the result of poor translation. The individual descriptions and texts do vary widely in their quality, and perhaps that is inevitable in a shared research project. But when the windows at Ronchamp are called ‘random’, and Barragán’s window frame is said to divide the window ‘aimlessly’, I feel that further editing should have been done.
The system of classification used to organise the material makes it almost impossible to predict where a particular window might be found. There are 15 window categories such as ‘pooling’, ‘dissolving’, ‘workaholic’ and ‘aligning’. These categories are further grouped under three general headings: ‘Light and Wind’, ‘Beside People’, and ‘Symphonic Poem’.

Corb_1

Corbusier’s Ronchamp is among the best known of the 130 case studies in this analysis of windows from around the world. But is the placement of its windows really ‘random’ as the book says?

Each window could easily have been assigned to several of the 15 headings, and to at least two of the three master headings. What is consistent and helpful is that each window is assigned a climatic location, although I would have found it much more helpful if the windows had been grouped solely by geographic location.

What is astonishing, though, is that I  think I only counted six of the entries containing information about orientation. Surely a specific orientation should be noted for each entry, since it is fundamental to understanding many of the designs in the book.

The subtitle of the book is ‘Window Behaviourology’. Behaviourology is not a word I have found in the dictionary, and it has been used in a very sloppy way to refer both to the behaviour of the window and to the behaviour of the building’s occupants. Surely the window functions and the humans behave? We could then understand the relationship between the two, and the important distinctions between them. Perhaps, then, the basic geographic groupings could be subdivided into functional subsets such as ‘residential’, ‘commercial’ and ‘institutional’.

110520_casa_barragan_salon_fenster_880

Can Barragán’s window frame really be said to divide the window ‘aimlessly’?

There is an incidental suggestion that in the days of international commerce along the Silk Road, window design conventions may have been transmitted from culture to culture. This is not supported by the location of the examples shown, few of which are located in the Middle East or central Asia. But the powerful frontispiece photographs of densely windowed streets do start to suggest that some such thesis might be worth considering.

On the whole, the book deals with a subject well worth pursuing. With an expanded representation of locations, more rigorous descriptions, and above all a consistent representation of orientation, it would be a valuable addition to an architectural library. I do believe, though, that both the subtitle and the subjective system of categorisation should be discarded. What I want from a book like this is good visual and factual information, not inconsistent and subjective notes. I will make up my own mind about the tactile, functional and poetic quality of each example if I am given the information to enable me to do so.

This is a frustrating book in its present form, but the work done is valuable, and it could be expanded into a really beautiful and lucid book on a subject which is right at the heart of architectural form.

WindowScape: Window Behaviourology

Yoshiharu Tsukamoto Laboratory (eds)
Tokyo Institute of Technology
1175 Japanese yen

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