The windows of the medieval castle were limited by the glass size production of the time but there were also reduced to serve as defensive windows, the ultimate one being is the archer window, a vertical scar, wide of few centimeters. Centuries later, if you combine the need for protection from the really aggressive “environment” of 1945 warfare with the desire to watch out for invaders, you obtain a similarly radical “window”. It is the horizontal panoptic window of the bunkers of the “wall of the Atlantic” to unable 180° view of the ocean.
Panoptic vision and omnivision, are important themes in architecture. Both have of course been really present in defensive construction also in the making of prison, to enhance the guard ability of surveillance. The striking point of the second world war bunkers, is that they achieve this omnivision, with such a small aperture. It is a quite limited point of view for the user as the user can see only in a specific position, usually standing. I find this very inspiring: a mostly opaque building, with small apertures, specific views with dedicated windows.
At the opposite of the 180° slit into an otherwise fully opaque building of the atlantic wall bunkers, some other military defensive apparatus are enable 360° vision. The observer, a pilot or a gunner is also in a fixed position but the form of the extend window which surround him open up the view.The glass dome turret installed on aircraft are meant to prevent attacks from everywhere, quite careless of the gunner protection himself.
In peace time, the omnivision is valued for seeing great panoramas. Here, the window don’t have to be very big, they need to be immersive, to surround the viewer, with minimal framing or even better when possible with just a bubble of transparent material, such as helicopter or submarine panoramic display. (rarely glass with such shape)
It is interesting to find also some reminiscence of the second world war framed glazed window, in recent airplane concept design such as the Airbus or in SF movies or even the recently installed ISS cupola.
Even if the frame as evolved in a some voronoid like geometry in the Prometheus movie or in the airbus concept plane, the inside views are strikingly similar. They have in common small panels and minimal frame. May be with the production capacity of very large glass and the thermal performance now required which impose to minize the glass to frame ratio, we tend to forget that glass has been small for the longest time.
And it is still small in extreme condition, undersea, high in the sky and in space. These odd windows, remind us also of the structure of stain glass with their very thin lead elements or the XIX century glass house, where the combination of steel and glass with very fine elements achieve (or could have achieved if the glass was even clearer) an extreme transparency in a surrounding volume with enable a full view.
A quite recent project from Thomas Heatherwick, borrows loosely to this idea of surrounding glass with very fine structure, in a contemporary reinterpretation of the XIX century glass house: the Bombay Saphire glass.
If the formal gesture is quite impressive, (but there has been many of these recently…) the structure is just very bold. It uses the fold, the curvature and in plane stiffness of the glass to make the overall structure work together. The combine work of Arup and Bellapart, was necessary to achieve this one in a kind project.
It is a Folie in the tradition of the XIX century park, which main quality is to depart from the usual “box” in which the use of glass seems to be stocked during the last decades where one aims only to conceived large glass envelop with very large glass panels..
Not that boxes are a problem, but having them just big and transparent only, make them just boring, regardless how smartly the glass is held.
Actually, there is a quite wide range of glass use even when making a glass box that are not exploited because of very narrow apprehension of what transparency, can be.
Altogether, these exceptional windows are designed to see more and experience more than seeing. They mixed views with others feelings, from fear to dizziness, reaching beyond the mere transparency. It confronts the viewer himself with the space around him, or the “elements” in a protective bubbles
I often wonder if it is possible to create similar “confrontations” between one consciousness of being with some more mundane surrounding or means. In other words, can a glass composition bring more than vision without going to these very exceptional design or glass composition?