Sliver Windows: A How-to Guide


Hi, Eric here with thirty by forty design
workshop, today we’re going to be talking about how to use long, narrow windows. Without windows, our architecture would be
lifeless, heavy and dark. We use window openings to control light, admit
fresh air and connect our interiors to the outside world. Because they control these key components
of our built environment, windows are integral to setting the mood of a space. Sliver, or ribbon, windows have a particularly
unique way of controlling the way we feel in a space. Used high in a wall, they wash the ceiling
with an even light, making a space feel secure yet luminous and introspective. Used low in a wall, they create a dramatic
shift in focus, highlighting and reflecting the adjacent ground color, material and weather
outside. Used at or just below eye level, sliver windows
create a carefully controlled horizontal framed view to the building’s surroundings. By locating these sliver windows significantly
below eye level, the architects have maintained a connection to the outdoors, provided natural
lighting to the hallway and directed the interior-exterior sight lines toward the ground. This is done intentionally to change the eye’s
focus toward the other elements in the hallway and direct movement. The bold lighting and the destination, a brightly
colored door, receive the most attention as a result. The sliver windows create a well-lit pathway
to follow and an eye-catching linear shelf of contrasting wood that bounces light vertically
to warm the white hallway. The lowered natural horizon point also makes
the hallway naturally feel taller. And so the effects rendered are: it encourages
movement, creates mystery and a highly controlled experience. Pairing a low window with an exterior surface
material, such as this water pool, allows for light to be reflected off the material’s
surface toward the interior. This washing of light can be different depending
on the exterior material’s color and reflective characteristics as well as on the time of
day, the season and the solar orientation. For this gallery space, a muted, indirect
light is perfectly appropriate. The low window also permits the majority of
wall space to be used for artwork. So the effects here are that it creates focused
attention both interior and exterior, the exterior surfaces enhance the interior reflections
and the quality of light. Sliver windows provide a tenuous and unexpected
base to the floating wall above them in this living space. They focus views to the nearby trees, and
by extending the windows wall to wall, the architect has connected the interior floor
space to the adjacent forest canopy. The wall appears to float as a thin shell
roof folding into and becoming a wall. By locating this window at the floor, the
building form and interior space become dynamic interlocking L-shapes. The effects at work here: reinforce striking
geometries and create strong outdoor connections. On the lower level of the same house, this
sliver window calls attention to two elements: an angled steel column and a tree trunk. It’s sort of a portrait, one abstracting the
other. The effect is that it editorializes and highlights
the unique. As we move the windows higher up in the wall
plane, closer to our natural sitting position, the placement tends to suggest use and offer
distinct perspectives. This sitting alcove has a controlled slot
of light right at seated eye height as well as one high above. The upper sliver windows wash the space in
ambient light, while light from the lower window warms the wood walls. Despite its tall volume, this space exudes
comfort and security. The lower window engages a very specific activity
and rewards the user with a special view available only in repose. The effects here are: cozy, intimate and special. Here we see the combination of two uses of
sliver windows. The upper, or clerestory, windows wash the
white ceiling with bright natural light, while the lower windows near the seating group permit
only very carefully controlled views outside. Neighboring structures and views may not always
be desirable, and narrow windows allow the interior experience to be carefully modulated. Seated, one has a sense of the exterior space
and natural light but no sense of just how close the property line actually is. So the effect at work here is to conceal views
while still admitting natural light. With a view like this, why not glaze the entire
wall? Well, there’s many reasons not to. If this view faces north, a small amount of
glazing, especially in a northerly climate, just makes sense. Also, by placing the window as the architect
has here, it calls attention to a very specific view to the landscape, which is revealed slowly,
depending on your position in the room. When the viewer is standing, the view is more
about the lake; when seated, it combines water, mountains and sky; and when lying in bed,
it’s more about the tree line and sky. This changeable horizon through a controlled
view allows the interior experience to be more complex and enriching. And revealing only one measured, narrow view
at a time fosters a more intimate understanding of the building’s site. The effice is painterly and abstract. This treatment engages the whole of the surroundings. This view functions as a living panoramic
landscape painting and reinforces many of the previously discussed concepts. It’s also a great example to illustrate proportion. To be considered a sliver or ribbon window,
I suggest a 3:1 width-to-height ratio at a minimum. If you’re looking for more of a sliver and
have the room, use a ratio of 5:1 and up. This particular window nicely correlates to
a 3:1 proportion. Using anything less will appear more rectangular
than horizontal, and it will be difficult to achieve the effects we’ve been discussing. Here the dining space has a contemplative
panoramic painting. Again, the sliver of view affords a changing
perspective on the vast landscape beyond, but one that is highly specific to one’s vantage
point. The effect? Used in a space that is exclusive to seated
functions, this treatment highlights the surrounding topography’s horizon line. Placing narrow windows at this elevation in
a wall makes great sense for spaces where the activity is centered around standing. As you might expect, most of these examples
are found in kitchens. In this kitchen the horizontal window has
been stretched to epic proportions. It brings a verdant view into the kitchen,
provides ample natural light to the work surfaces as well as the entire room, and it’s a weightless
counterpoint to the massive and weighty elements that comprise the kitchen below the windowsill. Effect? When sliver windows are taken to the extreme,
the wall surface appears to dissolve, connecting inside and outside. This project showcases a unique application
of the sliver window. On the exterior it features the horizontal
window element as something special. On the interior it provides additional counter
space, whether for storage or growing herbs. It confidently incorporates a transparent
backsplash and window into the architecture of the home. The proportions of this galley kitchen are
matched by the horizontal band of windows, which highlight a private exterior courtyard
beyond. The use of sliver windows here alters the
visual perception of space, essentially borrowing the exterior courtyard space and incorporating
it into the kitchen. The tight footprint feels much more spacious
as a result. Because this home is at the center of a three-lot
block of row houses, the architects used the courtyard as a way to deliver light to the
interior spaces. While they gave up some interior space, they
found a clever solution to a common problem. The sliver windows also control the views
to the neighboring house, only permitting views to the outside wall and display area. The effect? Enhance the apparent dimension of a small
space, especially in urban environments, where views often require filtering. It’s hard to discern in this kitchen what
is backsplash and what is window. The kitchen feels like a part of the outdoors,
and the sliver window effectively counterbalances the solid cabinetry. The architects have hidden the frame of the
window glazing, adding to the custom-tailored look. Everything feels as if it’s part of a family
of thoughtfully considered, highly customized design elements. The effect: a brightly lit workspace with
strong connections to the exterior. Narrow windows located high in the wall are
usually called clerestory windows. The principal reasons for shifting windows
vertically in the wall like this are to take advantage of natural daylight while promoting
privacy and prohibiting views out. Locating windows higher in the wall delivers
more light farther into the space. The sliver window shown here washes the ceiling
plane in even light and maintains a kitchen space separated from the outside. The upper cabinetry becomes a light shelf,
bouncing light even deeper into the space. An operable clerestory provides excellent
ventilation capabilities, and without the need for supplemental lighting, the clerestory
window is an energy-conscious choice as well. The effect: a cloistered, inwardly focused
yet bright and evenly lit space. Another creative application of the sliver
window can be seen here on the interior wall of an office space that borrows light from
an adjacent room. Placing the window high in the wall moves
it out of the way of the workspace, minimizing distractions while conferring all of the advantages
of natural lighting to the space. This is an excellent way of transferring light
between rooms while maintaining separation and privacy. Bathing spaces lit by natural light are particularly
enjoyable spaces. Daylight intimately connects us to our natural
circadian rhythms, warms us and wakes us. Daylighting paired with light-hued interior
materials, such as the tile in this shower, creates a luminous and soft look. This makes the sliver window used high in
the wall of a shower or bathing space especially attractive. Note how the ceiling plane appears to hover
or float. The clerestory window creates this unique
effect; it reduces the apparent weight of the ceiling plane, replacing it with a view
to the outdoors. The effect: a brightly lit interior that preserves
privacy.