Which Matters More: The View or the Architecture?

Which matters more: the view or the architecture?

Depending on whether you’re a high-profile architect, residential homebuilder, or a planner, your answer to the above question may vary.  As an architect you might say that the physical form of the building is most important—even if you refuse to admit it.  If you’re building a residential space, like a typical single-family home, perhaps you’d claim the layout of its interior is more likely to affect the lifestyle of its inhabitants; thus, interior design would be more important than architecture.  An urban planner may look at exterior architecture with more regard than the building’s interior design, but would caution that design is subservient to its role as a place in relationship with the greater community.

An article entitled, “Seduced by the View,” deals with this issue in a very practical sense.  Its author reports that as many as 6 in 10 residents of high rise buildings keep their windows covered, despite originally being sold on the sweeping views afforded by the floor-to-ceiling glass.  If that’s true, why in an age of LEED building and ever-tightening energy standards are we building skyscrapers covered in a material with the insulating value of cardboard?  I guess as any viewer of HGTV’s House Hunters knows, it’s all about location, location, location natural light.  (Well, that and granite countertops.)

But, at least if you choose to leave the windows uncovered you will have those spectacular views.  That is, if you can uncover the windows…

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Take a look at this house in Bryan, Texas.  Compared with most of what’s being built in suburban America today, this one looks relatively attractive.  However, in the name of architecture, this home has been given two large windows on the front façade that are completely invisible from the home’s interior.  Because the stairs to the second story are right behind those windows, they’ve instead been covered with black paper and walled off.  The worst part is that when I last saw the home in person it was still for sale—and the paper had begun to peel away from the windows with no easy way of getting in to fix the problem.   But, hey, at least the home’s got an alley-loaded garage and a front porch.

Homebuilders and architects must agree that it’s important we meet somewhere in the middle of these extremes.  Saving our cities (whether urban or suburban) isn’t just about building a product; it’s about creating spaces that enhance communities—inside and out.  As I hope we’re beginning to learn, covering skyscrapers in glass curtains does little to enhance the quality of life for its inhabitants.  Building false windows to give the impression of balance also does no one any favors.  Put more plainly, building at either extreme is nothing less than lazy.

I guess you could always just pretend that there are windows on the building, like in this example from China.

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