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Fragmented windows

Filters, from Le Corbusier to Glenn Murcutt Ignacio Paricio & Cristina Pardal

This article, along with the followings, forms a series with some types of significant windows and filters in the pursuit of wealth and sensuality of the relation between the outside and the inside through the wrapping of buildings. Our thesis defends that these values were fully achieved in the bourgeois window of the past century, but were radically abandoned since the 1930s, when the leaders of the Modern Movement imposed new aesthetic dogmas on the wrapping. The purist Le Corbusier of those years would make a clean sweep of the functional and formal richness of traditional window, and replaced it with the schematic solution called pan de verre. The explicit evidence of that denial can only be explained with Machados despises what ignores (desprecia cuanto ignora). Years later, the best Le Corbusier had to retrace his steps and base the expression and function of many of the facades in the famous brisoleil.

But the damage was already done. Contemporary architecture identifies the gap with a large glass with the least possible carpentry. Only very slowly the best architects are recovering the richness of filters that characterizes the most important functional element of architecture. In this first article we focus on the virtues of fragmented window.

EMBT- Utrecht city hall Photo: Duccio Malagamba

A gap of a certain size usually requires different filters on its various areas. Height is especially what establishes large differences on the demands of the relation with the outside. The top of a gap for example is the part which conducts light farther from the window when there is low intensity, but also the first that should be closed to avoid dazzling. The bottom may be what allows viewing the street even sitting or lying down, however may be the first which requires privacy control. When you want to protect from the sun it is likely to prefer not giving up the view of the outside in the center of the gap. In very cold moments, it is necessary to protect some glasses closing its shutters, but not those at sight height.

Galaico-Portuguesse window Photo: Ignacio Paricio

The traditional window has been very sensitive to these nuances. Large leaves that open when the weather is nice may arise, or leaving small nested windows to protect when necessary. Almost all traditional windows are fragmented into various sizes sheets, with filters which can be manipulated independently. The most interesting is the canary window, which is stratified in three heights; but also Galician-Portuguese is a fragmented window, seeking light with skylights on the top, or Mediterranean folding-sliding window independently operated for each segment of the blind, also with projectable nested blinds as in the Italian window.
Italian window Photo: Ignacio Paricio

Canary window Photo: Ignacio Paricio

This fragmentation has been useful in many cases of monumental restoration, as shown by the magnificent windows on Casa de las Conchas by Vctor Lpez Cotelo, or many windows of Louis Kahn, in which the opaque and glazed combine to draw the exact light, the precise profile of the backlight.

Louis I. Kahn Esherick House Photo: JPMM

Vctor Lpez Cotelo Casa de las Conchas Photo: A.L. Baltans + L. Snchez

In the Salk Institute in La Jolla, Kahn combines wood paneling, windows and louvered shutters on sliding frames to draw household hollows as rich counterpoint of bare concrete. Meanwhile, Rafael Moneo reminds us stratification of traditional windows when combining alabaster and glass in the hollows of the Mir Foundation in Palma, which actually repeat the canary model: diffuse light at the top, views and transparency in lower.

Louis I. Kahn - Salk Institute Photo: Grant Mudford

Rafael Moneo - Mir foundation Photo: Hisao Suzuki

But the most interesting and rich expression of the possibilities of fragmentation is illustrated by the famous Glenn Murcutts window on his residence for artists in Riversdale, Australia. It is a window with three layers. The lowest consists of a certain size fixed glass that allows the view to the outside when sitting. On top consists of two large double hinged leaves formed largely by simple wooden boards. But we say it is double because in the bottom of those leaves there is a glass sheet that appears when the inner shutter flap folds. This way, the viewing area can be expanded to reach the height of a standing person, or the shutter can be closed to protect the interior of excess light. New Zealand's climate allows simplicity of materials that we can not be granted elsewhere but the rich possibilities of exterior-interior ratio are multiplied with the simplest elements.

Glenn Murcutt - Residence for artists in Riversdale Photo: Lindsay Johnston

Those are fragmented windows, rich in design and comfort, which ridicule some gaps of the great architecture of today. Gaps that are not windows but large simple glazing of schematic minimalism and impotent functionality.