It’s winter, so I’m thinking about summer.
I’m thinking specifically of the warm breezes of summer. I’m thinking of how difficult it is to enjoy natural weather in the summer in modern buildings whose window don’t open for safety/liability reasons as much as because we demand climate controlled spaces.
But these characteristics of our times are probably an example of regression rather than progress, at least in the sense that they degrade the experience of any given place as distinct or diminish the chances of encountering our neighbors or hearing the sounds and smelling the smells of the streets.
I think places should shape how you live. A few years ago I took these photos of a street in Old City, Philadelphia. It’s an example of a specific set of buildings, where one of the older ones retains a feature that newer buildings avoid: windows that open.
Few if any new construction incorporates anything as beautiful as that building’s architectural flourishes, let alone its enormous windows. At the apartment where I lived in Old City at the time we had a wide glass window that provided a great view of the street, but that was a sealed, single pane of glass. Only thin slats near the top opened to let in some of the sound of the street, but none of its noise or breeze on a warm evening.
I think a lot of this has to do with America’s liability culture, and the fear from owners and developers that buildings with great windows like the one above that draw neighbors closer together are also risks for anything from basic falls to darker things like suicide. But making decisions like that makes the exception the rule, and the rule of daily life in apartments like ours is that you can see the street, but you can’t feel the neighborhood. You can’t drink it in.
I think more beautiful, wide-open windows would be a specific improvement that would significantly enhance the character of my neighborhood. What about yours?