Sunday, September 20, 2015

Architecture is Awesome #9: Windows

Window, Robie House (1906), by Frank Lloyd Wright
This is another in my series of posts inspired by 1000 Awesome Things, the Webby Award winning blog written by Neil Pasricha. The series is my meditation on the awesome reasons why I was and continue to be attracted to the art of architecture. 
I grew up in Vancouver, British Columbia, a city blessed by spectacular vistas. My childhood home enjoyed dazzling views of the mountains across Burrard Inlet. Wintertime was a particular treat, as sparkling white snow returned every year to blanket those peaks. It was the kind of scene of which postcards are made. 
As dramatic as the mountain backdrop was, my favorite window provided me with equally enchanting if more immediate prospects. There were the neighborhood trees, whose leaves would bud, burgeon, turn colors, rustle, and drop. There were the birds and squirrels, always entertaining. There was our laundry on the clothesline, billowing and flapping in the breeze. The sights, sounds, and scents of our backyard may not have been especially remarkable, but they still evoke vivid and fond memories for me. 
By Vancouver standards, our house was old. Its windows were single-paned, mostly double-hung types with small lites. My favorite window, located in a nook off of our kitchen, wasn’t large but its low sill let me sit comfortably next to it and press my nose against its glass. Framed by nicely proportioned and white-painted wood trim, it invited light into our kitchen with a minimum of glare. It demarcated inside from outside, protecting me when I wanted it to, or erasing barriers when I drew it open to invite fresh air in. It was perfect. 
I remember whiling away hours staring out that window. It provided plenty of fodder for my lively imagination. The cold, gray days of winter were particularly fertile times. While cosseted safely indoors during a storm, I’d watch the rain slide down as wind-bent branches scratched the glass. I’d pretend I was in a castle, girded for threats posed by dragons and enemies outside the walls. Foggy days were mysterious and moody; I would see ghosts in the mist. On the coldest of mornings, I’d wake up to find Jack Frost had been at work, a delicately frigid tracery left as his mark. 
Being in the kitchen, condensation frequently appeared on my favorite window on those cool winter days. I would finger paint in the condensation, the damp glass providing an obliging and mutable canvas for an impatient young artist. It was a time for day-dreaming, make-believe, and the simple joy of drawing. 
During my late teens, my parents moved our family to a new, larger home. Its attractions, as least in my father’s eyes, included its expansive “picture windows.” Ironically, I believe the smaller windows of our old house connected the childhood me more intensely with what was on the other side; the uninterrupted panes of our big new windows would not have done the same. I know I would have missed the sense of framing and enclosure provided by our old home’s smaller windows. If I had grown up in the new house, I have a feeling I wouldn’t have gravitated to one of the wall-to-wall, mullion-free, insulated glass openings as I did so naturally to the “window place” in our old home.  
Humans are drawn to light and views. Windows frame our panoramas, connect us with our surroundings, and protect us. They are lenses, focusing and/or mediating our relationship with the world outside. In architectural terms they are powerful centers, ripe with symbolic and functional potential. My life is richer today because an AWESOME window I enjoyed as a child rewarded me with limitless fuel for flights of fancy. 
Next Architecture is Awesome: #10 Choreography


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