An ancient proverb states that eyes are the windows of the soul. Here I want to give examples of how the architectural design and use of windows can reveal the soul of the culture you are visiting.

Stained Glass

For instance, while it is appropriate to appreciate the beauty of stained glass in Christian cathedrals and churches, they portray a deeper meaning as to the culture in which they were designed. First, because they prevent a clear view of the earthly world outside, they reinforce the priority given by Christianity to the afterlife above the mortal life. Second, because they can only be fully appreciated from inside, with daylight shining in, they prioritise the believer's interior view over the apostate's view looking in.

Image of the rose window in Chartres Cathedral taken by Dimitry B

Middle-class Apartments

In stark contrast to stained glass, the occupants of middle-class apartment blocks show a predilection for windows with complete transparency. The interesting thing about these apartment blocks, however, is that the function of the transparency is more about letting people see in rather than for occupants to see out. Blinds and curtains are often unused because they impede others' view of their lifestyle. For one of  the unconscious goals is the conspicuous display of consumption. The resulting environment is a capitalist version of the panopticon, as conceived by Jeremy Bentham. The occupants are enslaved to the capitalist lifestyle.

Image of apartments in Philadelphia taken by shaggyshoo


In contrast to bourgeois windows of consumer societies, islamic society favours family privacy. Jali windows maintain this privacy in an pre-modern version of one-way mirrors by making it easier to look out of them than to look in. This is achieved by carving geometric or floral patterns into stone, and perforating the stone to allow only some light to enter or exit.

Image of a jali window at the Sidi Saiyad's Mosque taken by Raveesh Vyas

Corporate Towers

In the corporate world one-way mirrors are also prevalent, as seen below with the Hancock Tower in Boston. The interesting characteristic of this and similar skyscrapers, however, is the sense it gives that there is only one window for the whole structure. This monolithic sensibility mirrors how employees of corporations are expected to speak as one for the company's values, not their own.

Image of Hancock Tower taken by Pear Biter

Unique Windows

The Austrian architect Friedensreich Hundertwasser ventures in the opposite direction. He designed the apartment block Waldspirale in Darmstadt, Germany, with over 1,000 windows. But, in opposition to the bourgeois apartment blocks mentioned above, and post-war cheap apartment blocks, each one of these windows is unique in design, honouring the individualism of the occupants.

Image of Waldspirale taken by hans s

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