Origins of Modernism: Windows

Picture11By COD 2013 Berlin Conference Scholar Sarah Corbitt, Assoc. AIA

Famed German engineering shows itself in the early masterworks that we visited during the Berlin: Origins of Modernism conference in September, 2013.

Window opening equipment was built into the window systems in the Bauhaus – Dessau building, 1925-1926, with painted metal armatures precisely angled to work with hand-pulled openers.

The Philharmonie building in Berlin, by Hans Scharoun, 1960 – 1963, shows early use of double- or triple- glazing. This type of assembly, now common in the United States, was certainly not common in the US in the 1960’s. In fact, in the US, double-glazing took off really in the late 1970’s.

The triple glazing shown here is even more unusual – I’ve not seen it in the United States. Walking the streets of Berlin, we saw many examples, shown below at an unknown location, of a type of window assembly which combines panes of glass in a normal window frame, but then adds a glazed panel on the exterior. The glazed panel sits a few inches above the window sill, and a few inches short of the top of the window frame. Thus, there’s a gap at the top and bottom of the exterior glass piece. The glass insulates the interior window from direct rain, and also from wind and breezes, but allows air flow and some air movement to come in. It’s a really interesting window assembly, and I would like to know more. I’ve asked a glass manufacturer’s representative, for a company with international offices, about this window, and he didn’t know what it is called or how to specify it. If you know, that information would add to this discussion.

Newer buildings in Germany use many strategies to beef up their thermal resistance to outdoor temperature swings. These include both colored panels and intensive thermal bridging strategies. In Dessau, we saw an extensively daylit office for a governmental environmental agency with insulated panels and windows mixed together.

From a report on the façade optimization used in this building:

The window strip is divided into transparent and colour areas. This zone has windows that can be opened, opaque pivot-opening elements for night ventilation, and glass-covered wall elements. The windows (U value 1.2 W/m²K) have another single layer of glazing on the outside, with the sun protection fitted behind this. 35% of the exterior facade is glazed. The interior facades facing onto the atrium and forum also consist of wooden elements. The windows facing onto the atrium (U value 1.3 W/m²K) have glare protection fitted on the inside.” Try this link for more information, although the link is tricky and may appear not to work at first:

These very thick, well-insulated panels are used also in a very small, mixed-use office that we saw in Berlin, the Slender / Bender, by deadline Architekten. These panels appear as opaque wall panels when not open. The particular panel that is used in the main hall at Slender / Bender is approximately 6” thick!

There is a playfulness among some new construction in Berlin. In the use of windows, we saw some windows wrapping onto roofs to become skylights, holes cut out of interior walls for views, and even decorative curtains installed outside of an apartment, rather than inside.

In the Mitte neighborhood of Berlin, at the Konzerthaus, we also saw some great, older examples of windows adapted over time for form and function. Some had small openings, some larger openings, and some protected other windows.

Cities offer the pleasure of seeing a lot at once – in Berlin, there is a wondrous array of technologies and window types used over time to light the city’s buildings. German designers and engineers have adapted to their climate by creating thermally resistive window units, and these technologies can easily be used elsewhere, including in the United States, for clients who are committed to comfortable indoor environments.


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