WHAT is a window? For most homes a window is simply cut-out in an exterior wall that allows some measure of light to enter the house while providing a view to the outside. All too often the location of said window is dictated solely by the layout of the home (i.e. centered neatly in the middle of a bedroom wall) with little or no consideration to what it actually opens up to outside and the inevitable visual relationship that has been created.
Rather than thinking of windows as simply openings in a wall letting light in, think of them also as cut-outs to the world outside. Creating a strong visual connection between the interior and exterior spaces of a home, between the security and comfort of shelter and the wild and untamed natural world, is an essential part of a livable home. We desire to be close with nature, it's a fundamental human need, and any efforts made to improve this link through the design of our homes will only enhance the quality of the spaces within.
When placing a window, try to break away from the preconceived notion that it must be placed symmetrically in the wall, 3'0" at the sill and 6'8" at the head. A window needs to look balanced on the façade, it needs to let in light but it also needs to connect with something visually. This might be a view to the mountains or to the ocean beyond or simply to a beautiful tree in your yard but a conscious effort to frame something from the outside that can be experienced from the inside is the right way to think.
Placing a window is not always obvious and sometimes options are limited. There's no point in creating a large window to look into a neighbour's fence but if a window is desired in such a location other strategies might be employed. I've placed a small window near the floor in such a scenario just to capture the view of a small rock garden at the side of a house. Alternatively, a high window might direct one's view to a canopy of trees while shielding the view of the neighbouring fence altogether.
When designing the Cliffhanger House (cliffhangerhouse.com) I was faced with the challenge of trying to create a panoramic view on a property hemmed in tightly by neighbouring homes. By creating long horizontal windows placed high enough to shield the neighbouring structures but still low enough to capture views to water and mountains beyond I was able to create a feeling of remoteness in a place that was anything but.
When designing a new home the laying out of the plan and the landscape should be done in tandem to best enhance the relationship between the two. It's important to think about both simultaneously as each is influenced by the other. With a pre-existing home one should weigh the difficulty of landscape manipulation to household reconstruction. The mountain can't move but maybe that Japanese maple can.
Windows are light providers and visual connectors, they let light in while directing views out. Understanding their role will go a long way to ensuring their proper placement.
Kevin Vallely is a residential designer in North Vancouver. Follow along Kevin's "small house" design at cliffhangerhouse.com.