Dating buildings using window style
This aesthetic was essentially a continuation of the older mullion and transom format, where vertical and horizontal elements in a window had long been considered an intrinsic part of architectural expression.
This thinking transferred to the new sash window, where the muscular, densely gridded pattern of thick glazing bars was considered to lend strong articulation to the facade of a building, especially when painted white or a stone colour, causing the grid to visually leap out amongst inky panes of glass.
A large glazed opening in a wall allowing light to an interior is a relatively modern innovation in Ireland, as limited glass-making technology and the practical need for defence militated against such extravagance until the seventeenth century.
Before this time, windows in castles and defensive buildings were small and randomly placed, typically serving a security function in the form of arrow loops, or as narrow slits lighting stairwells and closets – many of which were not glazed at all.
We often take the appearance of our buildings for granted, however all structures are shaped by a number of factors – whether environmental, functional, economic, fashion or others – and this is also true of windows.
Until the early years of the twentieth century, most of Ireland’s buildings were governed by rules of classical proportion, borne out of the revival in classical thinking that arrived quite late in Ireland, in the 1600s, following the influence of the Renaissance sweeping across Europe.
In any event, it would appear that Ireland was equally keen to adopt the style, with widespread use in all forms of building documented as early as the 1730s.
Early forms of sash window looked quite different to the majority that survive today.
Symmetrically positioned windows, centrally placed doors, tall rectangular window opes, and elegantly designed window glazing that mirrored the proportions of the building, all became commonplace.
This coincided with a growing interest in classical architecture, spurred on by public building projects such as Dublin’s Royal Hospital at Kilmainham and the gradual reconstruction of Dublin Castle.
Windows became taller and narrower in the classical manner, though in some cases, such as the new State Apartments in Dublin Castle or Lord Clancarty’s mansion on College Green, both built in the 1680s, mullions and transoms continued to be used.
A wander along a typical Irish street can be a feast for the eyes, highlighting the way in which windows are arranged in an elevation, their glazing patterns and detailing, and their opening format – such as sash or casement – all contribute to our collective national architecture that makes us part of who we are and makes our buildings look the way they do.
This is especially true of Ireland, where most traditional street architecture and vernacular buildings depend upon basic classical rules of proportion and detailing for their architectural effect, rather than applied decoration that is commonplace in other countries.
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These dwellings regularly displayed ambitious arrays of large windows, indicating not only the confidence of their builders but also the wealth and prestige of their occupants.