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There are many components of a successful building, not the least of which is its fenestration. In this lesson, we’ll explore this concept and see how it impacts both design and practical elements of architecture.

What Is Fenestration?

Turtles do not have many holes in their skulls. Humans, on the other hand, have a few. Why does this matter? While the skull is strong, it’s also heavy.

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Holes in the skull make it lighter, without compromising its strength. We call these holes fenestrae, from the Latin word for windows. Like a skull, a building or any other support structure needs to be strong, but also lightweight enough to let us make them larger and more spacious. A larger skull can hold a bigger brain, and a larger building can hold more brains, or at least more people. In architecture, fenestration refers to the openings in a building’s facade, most notably the doors and windows. Basically, they are anything that allows for passage from outside to inside. Turns out, holes in the structure can actually be pretty useful.

Fenestration and Practical Concerns

Architecture is an art form that’s equal parts design and functionality, so we need to first talk about how fenestration impacts a structure in a practical sense. Have you ever seen an ancient Roman temple? They have an impressive entryway, but not much in the way of windows. Why? It is because fenestration can weaken the stability of a wall. After all, you can’t load weight onto a hole.Ancient builders struggled to erect large structures with many fenestrations, but modern architects have it much easier. Thanks to things like steel frames, which are stronger and distribute weight differently, we can create larger and more numerous openings in the facades of large structures.This doesn’t mean, of course, that constructing fenestrations doesn’t provide challenges to the modern architect.

Besides those elements of design we always need to consider, there are practical concerns. For starters, fenestration can greatly impact the functionality of a building. A shop owner whose store is on a busy walkway will likely want lots of windows in the front to show off their wares and attract customers.

Fenestration


Note the different uses in fenestration between the lower-story shops and the upper-story apartments.On the other hand, a suburban homeowner may want fewer windows, particularly in places like the bathroom. We have to keep the balance of privacy versus publicity in mind.

One other practical matter to consider is the effect of light. Natural light is beautiful, generally better for your eyes, and can reduce electrical bills by reducing the need for artificial lighting. However, light can also equal heat. South-facing windows can allow light to naturally heat a house, but are easily controlled by overhanging eaves that block the hot, midday sun.

East- and west-facing windows, on the other hand, are more likely to receive direct sunlight for at least half the day and can considerably increase heat and glare inside a building. So, if you want natural light but don’t want to be constantly running your air conditioning, more fenestration on the south side of the building, rather than east, is advisable.

Fenestration and Design Principles

Fenestration, however, is also a key component of architectural design. Why does the Empire State Building look so tall? Well, besides the fact that it is really tall, it has vertical columns of windows that draw the eye upwards. How do you make a neoclassical building adhere to strict rules of symmetry? Place two windows on one side of the building, and two windows on the other.

The size, shape, and arrangement of doors and windows are amongst the most visible parts of a building’s fa;ade. Knowing how to use them is essential to capture a desired aesthetic.

Fenestration


The symmetry of this villa largely comes from its use of fenestration.However, fenestration impacts more than just the exterior design of a building. If you ever visited Notre Dame in Paris, the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, or the Robie House in Chicago, you’ll hear people talking about a common theme: light.

Fenestration brings natural light into the building, which is a crucial part of the aesthetic. If you want a dark room that feels segregated from the outside, reduced emphasis on fenestration may be encouraged. If you want to create a smooth transition between the interior and exterior of a building, then you use lots of natural light to break down interior barriers. This way, the structure feels like a part of the surrounding physical environment.

Fenestration can make all the difference.Fenestration can deeply impact the interior aesthetic as well as the exterior.

Fenestration


Lesson Summary

In architecture, fenestration refers to openings in the solid exterior.

Generally, we’re talking about windows and doors. Fenestration is an important element of design that can create symmetry, direct the eye, or connect the interior and exterior aesthetics through the sizes, shapes, and arrangements of openings. Practically speaking, fenestration can reduce the stability of a wall when working in some materials, like solid stone, but this is less of a problem with modern building materials. Still, architects need to be aware of the effects of natural lighting on the interior, as well as the need of privacy in a domestic setting and the need for publicity in a commercial setting.

With all of these in mind, fenestration can be a crucial element of a building’s design. Just as eyes are the windows the soul, so can a building’s windows reflect the soul of the building.

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