Saturday, November 16, 2013


The three master Architects, Frank Lloyd Wright, Le Corbusier and  Mies van der Rohe of the Modern Age, each had a different approach to Architecture of Window Design. A comparative evaluation seeks to define their perceptions.

by 1893 was an independent architect and who began window designing in Queen Anne style, but soon enough began to break away from the Victorian inspiration. It was a move to the Prairie house rectilinear window design that set a direction for the next 25 years. Wright had once said "beautiful buildings I could build if only it were unnecessary to cut holes in them." This was exemplified in Prairie house windows. Windows were no longer punctures in the wall or an element of the wall, but rather began to be elements on their own. They  created a visual stand, an ornamental factor, a visual interest under the darkened space below the elongated eaves. He began to open up the interior spaces with clear glass doors and windows as in Prairie houses. Wright began to negotiate corners with windows to break the box like Victorian architecture of the age. The interior space became one end-less flow. He never accepted the then current --"poetry-crushing guillotine" double hand sash window, but used the long casement shutter stretching as a single panel, uninterrupted by any mid bars, from lintel to sill level. According to Wright the long casement shutter ‘brought outside in more effectively than the double-hung sash’. The open expanse of the casement shutters, its glass and the light behind became the medium for stained glass patterns. After a European tour that exposed him to the modernist movements of the time, Wright depended on straight parallel lines and repeated use of small squares as pattern.

Wright's glass designs in an earlier phase were influenced by William Morris and Louis H. Sullivan. He, instead of the opalescent picturesque effect offered by commercial glass designers like Tiffany and John La Farge, relied more on clear glass, abstract geometric patterns and discreet colouring to create what he called ‘light screens’, evoking the Japanese Shoji screens. In the later part of 1920's, Wright also began to use wood muntins along with colourless frosting as tools for patterning. With the Usonian house in the 1940's, window patterns were created by perforating plywood panels and sandwiching plate glass between them. In Johnson wax building, Wright wanted to create an internal building, without any worthwhile exterior view. The glass tubes in Johnson building negotiated curves, which would not have been possible through flat glass panes. It was a highly unique glazing approach, though not efficient in actual working.

LE CORBUSIER: For Corbusier history of a window was a struggle for illumination. He typically wanted, at least in the initial years, openings to bring outside in. This was due to childhood memories of Northern Europe day lighting, inferior quality of glazing and interior spaces that had small windows and required artificial illumination often during the day time. He, as a cubist saw the glazing plane as an opaque surface slightly receding due to its placement and surface quality. Glass was a shimmering metallic plane against the dull surface of the structure. He liked the configuration for illumination to be unbroken, and so preferred a separate ventilation system. For the same reason he did not like framing for the window. He would rather place the glazing plane directly into the masonry. This was continued in many of the later buildings like Ronchamp and Shodhan Villa Ahmedabad.

Corbusier started placing more then adequate openings, like the ribbon windows of  Villa Savoy, and invited complaints from the client. The extent openings became more rational in later projects. To cut the excessive glare he began to use an architectural baffle, a brise-soleil, for the first time, in the Algerian offices blocks (1933). Later he experimented with mechanical baffles for an office building in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, but mainly used masonry and cement concrete brise soleil for buildings at Chandigarh and Ahmedabad.

For him daylight was a living light was continuously variable, whereas the artificial light was static and local. Corbusier experimented with the distribution of daylight by positioning an interior plane adjacent to the window. The planes were first in the form of a right angle wall or ceiling, but later became inclined as well as doubly curved (as in Chandigarh buildings). Slit windows close to flat ceilings were used in many buildings. He began to use the same technique for distributing illumination of electric lights by large parabolic reflectors.

Corbusier placed openings to frame specific land views as picture windows or often just apertures. Ends of the ramps, stairs, passages, were marked by such openings.  Such linking of openings was also used with apertures or cut-out in ceilings. These occurred with another smaller or larger cut out below or with a water body to reflect it.

Mies, like his contemporaries FLW and LC also realized the need to open up the interior spaces. Removal of all partitioning elements, walls, was one common strategy adopted by architects of the period. However, FLW used the walls to define the opening, LC used the walls adjacent to the opening as a reflective plane to modulate the spaces, whereas Mies used the walls as a simple rectilinear and planar form to ‘give shape to space, open it, and link it to the landscape’.

‘Without plate glass the ability of steel and concrete ‘to transform space would be limited, even lost altogether; it would remain only a vague promise’.

The free-flowing interconnection between rooms and the outdoor surroundings occurred only in horizontal plane. Curiously vertical cut-outs or vertical connections remained unexplored in Mies architecture. Mies found appeal in the use of, clean lines, pure use of colour, and the extension of space around and beyond interiors as expounded by the Dutch De Stijl group. In particular, the layering of functions in space and the clear articulation of parts as expressed by Gerrit Rietveld appealed to Mies.

Mies' design for wall opening included a bronze curtain wall with external H-shaped mullions that were exaggerated in depth beyond what is structurally necessary, touching off criticism by his detractors that Mies had committed Adolf Loos's crime of ornamentation.


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