Tuesday, December 15, 2009

SPATIAL CHARACTER OF THE WINDOWS

from Interior Components and Systems : Windows -- http://www.gautamshah.in

Windows are surface elements, but a surface that is penetrable. As a surface element it has a great presence on both exterior and interior sides. A window is fairly a complex entity against the comparatively simplistic wall. Its surface never remains static. Its shutters are shifted to different positions. The contextual conditions like climate, illumination, distance and angle of observation and the purpose of use are continuously varying and in turn reshape the windows’ perceptive form. The external changes are reflected as a reverse -a mirror image in the glazing surface, and the interiors are seen through it. A window, on a single picture frame, simultaneously reveals the changes occurring in the interiors as well as exteriors. The dynamism of the window gets enhanced further by the framing, masking and filtration of the perception.

A window is like a membrane, which may not permit one to go through it, but it allows to stretch out the sensorial faculties. We see, smell, listen and feel the other side through the window. The extension to the other side of the window through the sensorial faculties is always short and casual. The frugality experience stimulates us to go across it, albeit by other means. A person on the outside perceives the safety in the interior, and the one in a bounded space sees the variety of experiences available outside. Doors are dilemmas, either go out or remain in, but a window provides no such options.

Windows have been used for opening out the interior spaces or for bringing in the exteriors. The historical window with opaque glazing of heavily coloured pot glass was extremely colourful but static. As the glass became thinner, lighter in colour the changes in outside levels of illumination began to be noticed on the interior face. This was aided by use of water white Cristallo glass. Interiors seemed much more natural, and attuned to the outside changes in light intensity. Till 19th C windows were vivid elements in an otherwise static exterior or interior surface. From outside the Cristallo was a dull opalescent surface, but clear glass with better casting, polishing and fire finishing began to be iridescent. The glass was recognised as having two distinctly different faces. Iridescent on the outside face due to reflections and a ‘water-white’ flawlessly clear and non glossy surface on the interior face. Corbusier used the opaque iridescence of the exterior surface to juxtapose the exterior masonry surface. But FLW used the deep shadows to eliminate the exterior iridescence and colour staining to break interior clarity. Mies used the exterior mirror like gloss to reflect the changes occurring in the surroundings simultaneously showing up the interior, and thereby reduce the massiveness of the built-form. Window glass is now often used to mix the realities of interior and exterior happenings on a very large joint-less single plane. The mix creates a very vivid object, like a water body reflecting the sky and the floor concurrently. Metalized opaque glass belies the two-way transparency of a see-through element.

Wall to wall glass openings dissolve one or many sides of a volumetric space, reshaping its perceptive size, scale and extent. The spatial illusion becomes more intriguing when such a large reflective glass surface is used.

We are conditioned to expect certain spatial effects in a space. A narrow space visually gets widened by a glass opening, though functionally remains the same. Skylights and clerestories add ‘lightness’ to the space. Lights such as roof holes focus the attention. Openings, depending on their location and nature redefine the space configuration. The stratification of view to the outside offers different scale to the space. Significantly bright areas highlight the details, and so are perceived and registered, more effectively then darker zones. A window becomes an element for changing a space, intentionally and accidentally.

Windows are furrowed gaps into an otherwise solid mass. The depth is highlighted due to the dark interior, and shadows cast by strong and directional light. The shadows as a form creating element was very well exploited by L. Kahn in his Asian buildings. The same effect at a micro scale and in repetition creates a lattice used in Indian Architecture. Windows like bay, bow, Mashrabiya and oriel have been used to enlarge interior spaces and also to correct the interior shape of the space. Zarokhas add to the interior space but have also been used to undulate the exteriors.

Masking has been very commonly used to change the character of the windows. Greek and Roman architecture subdued the openings as a secondary and less visible layer. Romanesque windows once again came to the surface, but openings were framed by the semi circular arch. Coordinating several windows was a concern as the height of the rounded arch was defined by the width of the opening. Gothic architecture solved the problems of geometric composition by pointed arch. It also created a system of subdividing the window opening through mullions, transoms and glazing bars. The window opening was masked by traceried patterns. Window masking became an effective tool to overcome the deficiencies of glass, size, clarity and impurities. The deficiencies made the windows subservient entity of the load-bearing structure. Glass houses, orangeries, etc. allowed windows to define a space without the use of a wall. The need for very large and deep sun lit spaces for bus depots, railway stations, markets, and factories redefined the windows spatial nature.

Framing is a property of all openings. Openings have their sides and mid members within the view cone depending on the point of observation. Palladio masked and framed the exterior face of the opening. The double-hung sash windows did the same on both, exterior and interior face. Framing is now used as an inevitable joint management system, and but often made imperceptible. Stratification (window openings’ position @ low, mid or higher level with reference to height of the user or the task plane) is an important ergonomic parameter that affects the spatial perception.

Transparency is a quality of the glass, and the most important aspect of the surface of the opening. A window opening in the form of a glass curtain wall or shop front, shows up the space in its exterior surface configuration, and also the spatial depths of its interiors. The simultaneity of the exterior and interior spaces adds to the dilemma of the physical reality vs the virtual reality.
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