Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Windows, frames and light

click photo to enlarge
Commercial buildings of today have virtually banished the window as a discrete architectural feature. Glass curtain walls have made the window as a transparent opening in a solid, opaque wall seem like a quaint artefact of the past and have merged the features of the elevation into nothing less than a giant mirror. However, in traditionally built houses the window continues, a hole that admits necessary light and that also frames the inhabitants' views of their surroundings.

Down the centuries windows have changed and evolved. Early medieval examples were often simply apertures, left open when the weather was kind and calm, covered with translucent greased cloth when inclement and windy. I've seen sixteenth century windows filled with glazed, iron casement windows that were only an approximation of the shape they filled, through which draughts must have whistled and where heavy curtains were required for any kind of winter warmth. Today's house windows tend towards the utilitarian, their plastic frames requiring neither paint nor a second glance.

Some of the most elegant windows date from the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries when simplicity and proportion were imposed on window design in a way that we could learn from today. I came across an example recently in the Guildhall in Boston, Lincolnshire. This mid fifteenth century building, erected for the Guild of the Blessed Virgin Mary, has been added to and modified over the years. Some of the upstairs windows were replaced in the eighteenth century and it was one of these that I stopped by to look down into the garden of Fydell House (also eighteenth century) next door. The way the light and sharp shadows fell across the fielded panels of the internal shutters had caught my eye, and as I looked at the nine-over-nine sash window and the view through the panes I was moved to take this photograph. What had appealed to me was one of the fundamental attractions of traditional windows that have all but disappeared where curtain walls have taken over, namely the way the entry of light models the interior and the way the firm outline of the window frames the world outside. It's a charming attribute that a painter such as Vermeer could build a career on and it's something that has the capacity to captivate us still.

photograph and text © Tony Boughen

Camera: Sony RX100
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 10.4mm (28mm - 35mm equiv.)
F No: f5.6
Shutter Speed: 1/500
ISO: 125
Exposure Compensation:  -0.7 EV
Image Stabilisation: On