Who Invented Windows and Doors?
A Word for Windows
No, nothing to do with the Microsoft word processing program. More to do with the origin of the word 'window.'
Our English word comes from the Old Norse, the ancient language of the Vikings. The Norse word it derives from is Vindauga.
So, what does it mean?
Vindauga ~ old Norse word meaning both "wind" and "eye."
So there we have it. The window was designed either to protect from the wind whistling through the house or to let those inside look out - or both, of course.
For the earliest house builders there were two important considerations above all others. They were protection from the elements and protection from wild animals or hostile humans.
The earliest houses didn't have windows. The only light that could get in was via an opening which served as an entrance and a circular smoke hole in the middle. The interior of most primitive dwellings, whether made of stone, wood or hide, was generally pretty gloomy. It was also practically impossible to tell what was going on outside without sticking your head out the entrance.
With rival tribes and wild animals on the prowl that could be pretty dangerous!
Celtic Roundhouse - No Door or Windows!
The Romans Enjoyed Glass Windows
The Ancient Romans were the first people to make use of glass in their windows. Of course, it was only the very wealthiest citizens who could afford to enjoy glass windows. The first Roman windows were installed in Italian villas about 2000 years ago.
The way they made their windows is interesting. They were able to produce clear window panes by casting blocks of glass, typically quite thick, and then laboriously grinding the blocks and polishing them until they achieved a thin, transparent surface. Thicker glass distorted the view or remained translucent. The trick was to get the glass thin enough to see through, but not so thin that it would easily break or shatter.
In the 1st century AD the Roman glassmakers very quickly developed their skills and some of the villas belonging to the most prestigious Roman citizens even enjoyed luxurious 'sun porches' rather like a modern conservatory.
A Glass Window Pane From Ancient Rome
Developing Window Pane Technology and Alternatives to Glass
The method for making window panes by casting, grinding and polishing continued in use right through until the middle of the 15th century.
Because the process was time consuming and difficult, the resulting clear glass sheets were very expensive and so such windows were only available to the richest and most influential persons. Glass in this period is only found in the windows of mansion houses, palaces and churches. The middle classes and the poor continued to dwell in the dark!
Another kind of window was developed by the enterprising lower classes, however. They would stretch oiled parchment or linen across openings. The oiling made the parchment more or less water resistant and also gave it a degree of transparency. In this way, some light could be admitted into the medieval home while still keeping out the worst of the wind and the weather.
Wooden Shutters Protected Windows
Wooden shutters were used to cover windows at night - even when there was glass. Medieval Europe was often in the turmoil of social unrest and uprisings and revolutions were common. Glass, as a symbol of the wealth and privilege of the ruling class, was often an easy target for rioters and protesters.
Leaded Windows Were Common From the 15th Century
We may take it for granted in our modern homes that we can open and close windows as we wish. However, the earliest windows were fixed in place. It was not until the middle of the 15th century that specially made wooden casements with a hinged interior frame to carry the leaded glass, were invented.
As you might imagine, this additional craftsmanship made the first casements quite expensive and so again, only the wealthiest could afford to open their windows and let the air in!
Leaded windows are made by 'wrapping' small panes of glass in lead beading and then joining them all together with droplets of molten lead, rather like glue, which was poured into molds.
How to Make Leaded Glass Windows Step by Step
Renaissance Italian Glass Spinning
The art and craft of spinning glass was revived, if not invented, in Renaissance Italy. The glass workers used their special techniques to spin liquid glass into flat discs from which panes could then be cut.
This method was very effective and saved a lot of time compared to the old method of molding, grinding and polishing heavy glass blocks. The resulting glass had a good level of transparency and at the same time it was comparatively tough.
The technique of spinning glass was developed to make all kinds of other items, including decorative glassware for the home.
Elegant Sash Windows
The Precursor of the Modern Window
The sash window was the precursor of the modern window, although it still relied on several small panes being conjoined either with lead or in a wooden framework. Indeed the term 'sash' in this context comes from the French, chassis, which means frame.
In the earliest sash windows the upper section was always fixed and only the bottom section could be moved up and down. The double sash, in which both sections could be moved, was not common until the late 18th century.
The modern window, perhaps in a uPVC frame and of dimensions inconceivable to the early Roman craftsmen, has its origins in the sash windows and casements of these previous centuries.
Glass can now be made in vast sheets and can be very strong. We even have bullet proof versions! In many cases, modern architecture has allowed the window to completely take over and we have whole buildings made entirely out of glass.
The World of Glass Architecture
A Last Word About Doors
It is true that many modern doors are also made of glass.
We saw before that primitive homes had an open hole for access to the building. Later, these holes were covered with hide or simple panels of woven sticks.
In the medieval period, solid oak doors had been developed (although there is evidence that the Ancient Romans had doors made of paneled wood) and these were commonly reinforced with iron hinges and bracing.
Medieval Oak Door
These early doors were heavy, hard to make and install, and so were only used in the mansions of the wealthy, castles and churches.
It was only much later that doors could be made light enough and cheap enough to be installed in every home.
And that concludes our look at the history of glass windows and doors. Next time you look out of a window, see a glass building, or shut the door to your room, you might pause a moment to consider the centuries long history that has enabled you to do those simple, everyday things!
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© 2015 Amanda Littlejohn