“if a window does not enhance the experience of seeing, it should never be built”

“Any architect worthy of the name always designs a window so the reality will be more clearly seen. If a window does not enhance the experience of seeing, it should never be built. The skill of the architect is the ability to make people see more clearly. The skill of the poet or artist is also the ability to make people see more clearly. Art makes truth both visible and accessible. Art lifts us up so we may touch reality.

Tony Watkin’s Thinking it through (2012)


Thinking it Through is a collection of columns architect and designer Tony Watkins wrote in the 1980’s and 1990’s. So far, I’ve only read a few of them and I think it will be slow going. Not in a bad way – it’s just that every few lines I come across an idea that makes me go “yeah, I have to write that down.”

If I was the kind of person who writes in their books, this one would be covered in scrawled margin notes already.

What I liked about this line wasn’t just the very simple, no-nonsense point about form and function, but that it brought to mind an extraordinarily strong memory visual memory. A memory quite literally of a window that should never have been built – or at least built in a different position.

In the late 1970’s,  I lived next door to a family who had an “architect-designed home.” Actually, since I’d grown up living in State houses, it could be said that I had also lived in “architect-designed homes.” But since mine were rented from the Government and the design was pretty standard across thousands of houses, the people next door were a bit special since they were amongst the relatively few families in New Zealand who had commissioned an architect to design a house specifically for them.

The reason Tony Watkins’ article made me think about the house next door was that its kitchen faced ours. The houses, although quite close together, were separated by a rather lovely garden of native trees and shrubs. Because of the proximity, I spent a lot of time seeing the “lady of the house” doing the dishes. Actually, what I saw were her torso and hands. That’s because the kitchen window in her “architect-designed house” was set so low that only quite small children could have seen out of it while they were standing at the sink.

So for several years I watched headless bodies doing dishes, getting glasses of water, filling the kettle, etc and all the time those headless bodies were looking at the wall above the window instead of their beautiful garden.

I’ve often wondered why the house was built with such a window. Was it a mis-calculation by the builder, or was it actually a design feature – deliberately put there by the architect. Surely if the builder had made a mistake, it would have been rectified. I guess I’ll never know, since lacking the facility to make eye-contact with the neigbours, I didn’t really get to know them.

I’m slowly working my way through Thinking it Through. I’m enjoying the intelligent, insightful text and Haruhiko Sameshima‘s gorgeous photographs; frequently reaching for my notebook to jot things down, and slowly developing my architectural world-view.

Beyond the kitchen wallI believe that in essence, design is being human made manifest in hard materials. Design should exhibit the same characteristics we want in humans; compassion, fairness, love, beauty, humour. Buildings should be friends – or at least fond acquaintances.

I’ve used to wonder what was on the wall above my neighbour’s kitchen window. A picture of a garden perhaps?


14 thoughts on ““if a window does not enhance the experience of seeing, it should never be built”

  1. The window as kitchen splashback. I’ve seen them in home magazines plenty of times – not to my tastes, like you, I want a window I can look out of. I’d never thought about how it looks from the outside looking in, very funny.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Growing up in Lynfield just as it was being developed was interesting as they were all own builds. One neighbour was an architect and every time they had a new child he built on a new room, so it was like the house that Jack built. As they would say on TV, the layout was all wrong.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hehe. That’s such a kiwi thing to do. When we were house-hunting back in 2000 when we came back from the UK, we looked at about 50 houses round Auckland, and so many were like that. Every 5-10 years, something had been added or changed and the houses were usually appalling. No flow, weird shapes and sizes. The only good thing about many of them was the land. 🙂


  3. Su – the flow of your writing is interesting and smooth. I can picture the clanging dishes and torsos. I also can picture you grabbing to write down notes- and this really whispers of your love to learn and generate your creative ideas and all that. Even though I am the type that marks up books and leaves my mark – especially if the books speaks to my heart.

    anyhow, just one little tidbit on the watkins’ quote, I know it was just part of the larger quote of something – but I kind of disagreed with this:

    “The skill of the poet or artist is also the ability to make people see more clearly.”

    my view is a bit different – I think that a poet or artist creates to maybe allow us to think less clear – to maybe ponder – or to embrace being challenged with tension of ambiguity that was delivered with the art. I liked his quote and I think I get what he means with the “see more clearly” – esp. w/ architecture – but I am not so sure about writing – esp. poetry and verse.

    anyhow, I enjoyed both posts here – and best wishes to you

    Liked by 1 person

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