windows ca. 1931

June 4, 2009 § Leave a comment

One of the Chicago book’s major themes is the role of windows in responding to functional needs (lighting) while dealing with serious functional and material issues (glass is a notoriously poor insulator, its expensive to make and transport, and it breaks–a lot).  I read an article today by architect Albert Frey from 1931 on “Windows” (Architectural Record, February, 1931) that laid out these problems as they existed at the time.  This is late in the book’s chronology, but it’s interesting to see how these played out when glass was relatively cheap.  Frey suggests that a workplace can’t have too much daylight, and that office buildings and factories ought to adopt the continuous strip windows and cantilevered construction that maximized the amount of exposed glass area on a building facade.  

Frey, of course, practiced in California, where the environmental consequences of glass walls were significantly less than in Chicago.  He noted that these windows needed shade in the summer, and acknowledged the need for heat in the winter.  What’s interesting is that his formula did become the universal standard, but not until the 1940s and 1950s, by which time air conditioning was in widespread use.

One more interesting point.  Frey thought that factories had it right, with gigantic planes of glass opening directly in to work places.  He explained the typical use of quite small panes by pointing out that windows were much more likely to be broken in industrial environments.  Larger panes would have been more expensive to replace.  Never thought of that, but it makes sense.

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