Pattern Language: Small Panes
Pattern Language: Small Panes
When plate glass windows became possible, people thought that they would put us more directly in touch with nature. In fact, they do the opposite.
They alienate us from the view. The smaller the windows are, and the smaller the panes are, the more intensely windows help connect us with what is on the other side.
This is an important paradox. The clear plate window seems as though it ought to bring nature closer to us, just because it seems to be more like an opening, more like the air. But, in fact, our contact with the view, our contact with the things we see through the windows is affected by the way the window frames them. When we consider a window as an eye through which to see a view, we must recognize that it is the extent to which the window frames the view, that increases the view, increases its intensity, increases its variety, even increases the number of views we seem to see — and it is because of this that windows which are broken into smaller windows, and windows which are filled with tiny panes, put us so intimately in touch with what is on the other side. It is because they create far more frames: and it is the multitude of frames which makes the view.
[Thomas Markus] points out that small and narrow windows afford different views from different positions in the room, while the view tends to be the same through large windows or horizontal ones.
Another argument for small panes: Modern architecture and building have deliberately tried to make windows less like windows and more as though there was nothing between you and the outdoors. Yet this entirely contradicts the nature of windows. It is the function of windows to offer a view and provide a relationship to the outside, true. But this does not mean that they should not at the same time, like the walls and roof, give you a sense of protection and shelter from the outside. It is uncomfortable to feel that there is nothing between you and the outside, when in fact you are inside a building. It is the nature of windows to give you a relationship to the outside and at the same time give a sense of enclosure.
Divide each window into small panes. These panes can be very small indeed, and should hardly ever be more than a foot square. To get the exact size of the panes, divide the width and height of the window by the number of panes. Then each window will have different sized panes according to its height and width.
It fascinates me how even seemingly small technological advancements in history have unknowingly shaped the relationship and psychology that we share with our physical spaces today.
When the float glass method was developed in the 20th century, which enabled the mass production of large panes of glass, new building windows grew, and grew, and grew. Now “windows” can span huge lengths and even replace entire “walls”. Many modern homes celebrate this as an advancement and a liberation for the home occupant.
But just because windows can now replace the physical space once solely occupied by a wall, does not mean that the two functions have fused into one. Windows and walls still serve diametrical functions in a building. When each is respected, they form a beautiful and playful dance. But when they are confused or muddied into one, inner conflict is born.
Why is it that despite the large windows in many office buildings, employees still feel so disconnected with the outside world? They can gaze up from the desk at the city skyline or street block any time they wish, but this never gives them that necessary feeling of connection.
A schism is born. A silent world awaits on the other side of the sterile surroundings, and one must either learn to tune it out in order to be productive, or risk the constant low-level distractions and desires to be on the other side. The division is thus felt even more intensely.
And as in modern homes, a large window meant to “capture and contain” the outdoor view invariably turns it into a commodity. People then sit on the couch, comfortably gazing at the view, but without ever feeling the inner tug to actually enter it. The “communion” takes place on the couch, and robs the person with what they’re really after, a feeling of connectedness with their natural surroundings. The view becomes nothing more than a pretty painting, one that can occasionally change, but offers no deeper relationship to the viewer than, of course, the visual.