Lounging in France 6: Windows

ShuttersThe reason Other Architecture is so fascinating, I realize, is because all my life I’ve lived in American houses. I know how those are put together and why. If you go somewhere else, it’s not the same at all. Why is that?

So we have the stone building and the tile (or slate or thatch) roof. What about windows? Windows are for us essential, like toilets and running water. I personally would not live in a domicile without any of these, would you? And we moderns are totally spoiled with glass. You can go to any shopping center and see a window taller than you are, wide enough to drive a truck through, that is utterly weatherproof and shatterproof yet perfectly clear. That was undreamed of in your great-grandparents’ day. Want one for your house? No problem, as long as you have the money.

But if you were an ancient Roman or a medieval merchant, all you have is this rectangular gap in your stone wall. Chilly. Dangerous, too, since the portal would allow thieves to come in and steal all your stuff. If you had the money to build a big place, the solution is no windows at all on the outer wall. One stoutly defended portal, and instead you have one or more central courtyards which allow light and air into your house — a Roman villa.

If you were not rich, then the cheap solution is shutters. Essentially doors for your windows, which you can lock from the inside at night. Open them in the daytime for light and air. The ones in the picture above are the simplest type (admire the matching garage door) with one neat refinement. The latch that keeps them shut has a second slot, so that you can lock them ajar as you see. This allows light and air but no one can get in. In the US shutters on windows tend to be purely decorative. Consider this window, in Washington state, where even if the shutters could meet over the portal the window housing prevents them from closing:


Why don’t shutters in the US tend to work? Because we have window screens, which are relatively rare in Europe. They have fewer (and less vicious) flying bugs than we do, I must assume. You can’t reach through the window to open or close the shutters unless you can open or remove the screen.

However, technology marches on and there are many, many refinements on shutter/window technology in the Old World. Here is one thrilling example, which I have never seen in the US — would it work in a snowy climate? And here, a photo of a more usual fix:


On the right of this photo you may see your common or garden wooden window shutters. You can see the central latching mechanism. The hooks at the bottom hold the shutters open and keep them from banging in the wind and possibly shattering themselves. The windows open in the middle. But look at the neighbor on the left. That is a fancy new window and shutter all-in-one unit. The window tips from the top or the bottom, or swings open like a door. The horizontal bars keep you from falling out. And that thick metal housing at the top? It’s a roll down steel shutter, that bunkerizes the portal tightly. Closed, that window is proof against shrapnel, never mind winter weather.




Lounging in France 6: Windows — 7 Comments

  1. One thing that absolutely floored me when I went to Austria as a student a few glacial epochs ago were the double windows. It turned out that you could use those as a fridge in winter if you, like me, didn’t have a fridge. (As for hot water, there was always the stove.)

  2. In hurricane country you can get hurricane shutters, which have a high initial investment, but over decades will be cheaper than boarding up your windows every time a hurricane comes through. However, they are of a different design than typical window shutters (which as you point out have become vestigial on most American houses, preserving the appearance for aesthetic reasons without any meaningful function).

  3. One of the things I noticed, on my first trip to Europe (on a bus trip from London to Athens…which was endless and fascinating and thank God I was young) was the old houses in the countryside that had windows only on 2-3 sides. To an American this seems aberrant, but those blank sides were on the north. It finally dawned on me that this was a necessity in relatively treeless areas where the winter winds could sweep through glassless windows–even with shutters up–and lower the temperature of the house from chilly to really miserable.

  4. What I like is electronic window shades to keep the sun off. Sometimes these are away from the windows. They are designed to lower air-conditioning costs in the summer.

  5. Here by way of Katharine Kerr.

    The example you linked, with the roof window that can be opened to become a mini balcony, is also sold and marketed also in Norway, where we do have a snowy climate in winter. I cannot imagine many people would open it as a balcony in winter, though. I have not seen any articles with pros and cons for this type of window in our conditions, or anybody posting user experiences/reviews – pretty much all that I’ve seen about it has been the typical promotional texts from the manufacturer.

    That last picture – the lefthand window is fancy, yes, but it also speaks such a different language from the wall where it is mounted.

  6. When I lived in Germany we had truly Teutonic windows. From the inside out, they had screens, glass panes, shutters, all of which hinged at the sides and opened in the middle. And then metal shutters that slid downwards to hide all of the above. It was amazing.