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Architectural or Historical Significance

The Old House Web

The windows of the George Tate House, in Portland, Maine's, Stroudwater section, help define the building -- forming a lasting visual impression upon visitors.

Evaluating the architectural or historical significance of windows is the first step in planning for window treatments, and a general understanding of the function and history of windows is vital to making a proper evaluation.

As a part of this evaluation, one must consider four basic window functions: admitting light to the interior spaces, providing fresh air and ventilation to the interior, providing a visual link to the outside world, and enhancing the appearance of a building.

No single factor can be disregarded when planning window treatments; for example, attempting to conserve energy by closing up or reducing the size of window openings may result in the use of more energy by increasing electric lighting loads and decreasing passive solar heat gains.

Historically, the first windows in early American houses were casement windows; that is, they were hinged at the side and opened outward. In the beginning of the eighteenth century single- and double-hung windows were introduced. Subsequently many styles of these vertical sliding sash windows have come to be associated with specific building periods or architectural styles, and this is an important consideration in determining the significance of windows, especially on a local or regional basis.

Site-specific, regionally oriented architectural comparisons should be made to determine the significance of windows in question. Although such comparisons may focus on specific window types and their details, the ultimate determination of significance should be made within the context of the whole building, wherein the windows are one architectural element.

After all of the factors have been evaluated, windows should be considered significant to a building if they:

  • are original,
  • reflect the original design intent for the building,
  • reflect period or regional styles or building practices,
  • reflect changes to the building resulting from major periods or events, or
  • are examples of exceptional craftsmanship or design.

Once this evaluation of significance has been completed, it is possible to proceed with planning appropriate treatments, beginning with an investigation of the physical condition of the windows.

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