Windows: A View into Functionality

No one can imagine typical buildings without windows.  They are essential to our daily life, to building aesthetics, and to building function.  In a typical architectural programming exercise, many of the opportunities windows provide are missed.  The linked article below lists five main “misunderstandings” that “design professionals” believe about fenestration.  I believe the core of this issue is that an owner’s or architect’s idea of what a window does not agree with the needs of building system integration.  Generally, an architect sees a window as a connection between exterior and interior spaces, as a way to provide a view and sunlight, and as a tool to achieve a certain aesthetic.  Actual glass properties including SHGC, VT, U-factor, frame type/thermal conditions, light versus ventilation, and reflectivity are not examined until later on when it is impractical and too costly to change the design.   So the article concludes that the industry’s mindset needs to change and allow envelopes, and more specifically windows, to be analyzed early on in order to contribute to a more efficient building.  I believe aesthetics and a connection to the outdoors will always be looked at before window orientation and other glass metrics.   So how can these two mindsets merge?

As the article infers,  focusing on the passive-performance of a building will make a big impact on long-term operation costs.  The article’s myth #1 makes a valid point to treat a window’s function differently depending on a building’s use.  This does follow an aesthetic vision as window layouts are different depending on a building type (residential vs commercial).  Simply orienting the building purposefully or adding shading devices can keep a window’s placement while helping it to perform better with ” the climate surrounding the building and the dominant load of the building type”.  Myths #3&4 look at unwanted solar gains and daylight versus glass sizing.  Aesthetically, the same affect can be obtained by resizing the window to a more optimum area or shape.  The other parts of the facade assembly or the interior heat-absorbing or reflecting materials can also be adjusted to allow for a particular facade-transparency aesthetic to actually function efficiently.  My conclusion is that windows are both a huge part of aesthetics as well as building system functionality.  Glazing is a very dynamic part of the design process which deserves more attention as they could make or break a building’s performance.


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