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The origin of windows

18 Aug 2021

Prior to the Sixteenth Century, windows were predominantly found in the ‘leaded light’ style, which is still used for stained glass windows today.


Combining small pieces of glass with lead framing, ‘leaded light’ windows were the result of the scarcity of glass and could only be afforded in the wealthiest homes. Chamfered stone mullions were already in use as were timber frames, but most buildings were unglazed and used shutters to protect their occupants from the elements.
Thanks to the relative stability of the Tudor dynasty, windows became bigger in the Sixteenth Century. Leaded lights continued alongside stone and timber window frames, which benefited from a wider range of mouldings. However, most people still used shutters or oiled cloths, as glass was still very expensive.


The growth of windows


The Seventeenth Century brought in a strong Renaissance influence to buildings, ushering in taller and narrower windows. Larger areas of glazing were now possible, with the size and position of windows indicating the importance of a building or room within it. Cross casements, incorporating four larger panes of glass, became particularly widespread. Leaded light windows became uncommon as they struggled to hold the weight of larger panes of glass, while timber framing grew in usage. The range of frames also increased, as chamfered or slightly curved moulding became popular for stone mullions.
Sash windows continued to narrow and became thinner. In the 1770s, plate glass was introduced, which contributed to the decline of the cross casement window but enabled even larger windows to be produced.


Experimenting in style


The Nineteenth Century led to an explosion in creativity, as improved manufacturing methods and increased availability of materials meant a greater output of plate glass. Along with a variety of colours and patterns, glazed windows became common for shop fronts, which previously relied on shutters. Projecting windows, such as bay windows, became mainstream for houses. Three movements influenced the style of windows in the late Nineteenth Century: the Gothic revival, which introduced wrought-iron window frames, the Arts and Crafts movement, which brought back leaded lights, and the Queen Anne style for sash windows.


 

Modern solutions


In the early Twentieth Century, windows also began to be produced in the modernist style for Art Deco buildings, incorporating new minimum profile steel frames.
Post-war construction of new housing saw an increase in available materials and many new house styles. With developments made in the aircraft industry during the war, aluminium became a viable alternative for window construction, alongside popular painted softwood frames. In the 1970s and 80s many homeowners started to replace their timber windows as double glazing was introduced to improve warmth in their homes. Aluminium and uPVC became more popular, offering longer lasting and maintenance free solutions alongside a wider choice of frame styles, including aluminium frames with timber inserts that were cheaper than their hardwood timber alternatives.

As lifestyles and tastes changed over the last two decades, the demand for narrow window profiles and large expanses of glass have led to aluminium becoming very popular in modern building design. High-performance glazing solutions have meant that homeowners can now open up large areas of their homes using curtain walling, large windows, and sliding or bi-fold doors, and, with the inherent strength of aluminium, it is the perfect choice for modern living. 

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