The Wonderful World of Window Wonks

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Wonk: A person who knows a lot of details about a particular subject.

Window: An opening in a wall that lets in light or air and provides a view to the outside world

Do you know the difference between stiles and rails? Jamb and jam? A brick mold versus moldy brick? Do you find yourself slamming on the brakes when you pass a Palladian window with original crown glass?

Well I just spent two days with a group of people who do – architects, builders, engineers, craftspeople, contractors and owners who care deeply about windows – old, new, traditional, modern, historic, broken, rehabbed, restored and replicated. Most of you know that I am the education director at the Traditional Building Conference Series and we just produced our Annual Window Symposium. Held at the Chicago History Museum April 12-13, 2016, 100 plus participants listened to 25 of the nations’ leading window experts, aka window wonks. I am proud to count myself among them.

Over two days, we discussed the historical significance of windows and repairing them if they can be repaired – and most of the time they can. We discussed replacements – wood for wood or wood-clad for wood, metal for metal. We explored vacuum insulated glass that allows for a thin insulated glass to be installed in historic sash.

We discussed managing large projects, testing windows for energy, performance, and codes, and how to make a good presentation to a local historic district for a window project. We reviewed case studies. We examined the role of windows in new traditionally inspired construction.

You get the idea – it was window immersion. More speakers emphasized the importance of conditions assessments when evaluating the fate of historic windows. John Sandor, architectural historian for the National Park Service, guided us through the process of managing change when working with historic windows.

Why am I a window wonk? Well, windows matter. Prior to 1900, they were mostly hand-made or made with machines that are part of the heritage of the industrial revolution. The romantic in me never beholds a casement window without thinking that Juliet is about to call out to Romeo from that window. The technology geek in me is fascinated by the size and appearance of windows that can be achieved due to modern manufacturing.

I am writing this blog in the light of a six-over-six Greek revival era window with extant panes or lights of what look to me to be cylinder glass. Windows give character to buildings and buildings with character give life to communities, streets and rural settings. In truth, I enjoy windows whether I am looking at them or through them. It’s been said before by others, “that if the eyes are the windows to the human soul; windows are the eyes of a building’s soul.”