What do you think would work here?


Hi all


Hope this isn't too cheeky for a first post - I'm neither an architect nor a student thereof, I'm just an ordinary Joe with a building project and I'm looking for some design pointers for it. Built in the 1920s in England, of stone local to the city, this building is a former water treatment works that is being converted to residences. The front stone wall is the major feature and the local government don't want to see it taken over with windows, which is kind of a nuisance because I need to get light in there to make it a nice place to live. The only windows that exist at present are those over the front door. The former owners succeeded in getting permission for a small set of extra windows but we don't really like them and at 4ftx2ft panes, they aren't very big relative to the size of the elevation (70ft x 20ft):

I asked the council for 4ftx4ft openings with 2 panes in, justifying the decision that industrial buildings have equal size windows, but they said the change made the building look overly residential and boring and would be refused, plus my window openings were square, whereas buildings in this period had rectangular windows. I didn't bother to point out that they'd passed 4 square plus 4 rectangular openings, because they seemed set on the fact that the smaller windows provided the necessary "interestingness" (?)

So, I started looking for a design that fit the implied guidance that this building has to retain its industrial character, and windows would either look like they'd always been there or be clearly modern, they need to be unusual, interesting, big enough to let a lot of light in but not dominate the face, not square, not overbearing. I drew this:

which I really like for the symmetry, and unusual nature of but only half of the future residents (me + my partner) like it. The future resident of the other side doesn't like anything proposed so far, but doesn't know what he would like.

So.. I'm a little short on ideas, but if anyone could point me to resources I could read, or has some ideas that would work on a building of this character and they'd be willing to share I'd welcome it. If anyone would like a google streetview look at the building I'm discussing, let me know. Massive thanks!

Sep 14, 13 10:41 am

Design consulting starts at $250 an hour plus expenses and 1/2 time for travel.

That would work.

Sep 14, 13 11:49 am
Send an street view please
Sep 14, 13 12:18 pm
boy in a well

what shall we bill for looking at google earth? its almost like travelling...

Sep 14, 13 1:08 pm

a whore house with all the people in the windows

Sep 14, 13 1:45 pm

cjard, I'm sorry that you're going to get a bunch of snarky responses, but the truth is you're asking for free design services: to get for free what we architects have spent lots of money and time learning so that we can sell it so we can eat.

That said, I hope some people might chime in with some ideas. Personally, in my opinion this is exactly the kind of project we should be teaching in architecture school.  Not as an entire curriculum, obviously, but it's the kind of straightforward design challenge that students are likely to face in the real world.  It's also a problem that can be pretty easily judged for success: it offers clear quantitative judgment values like proportion, functionality (for residents v. for neighbors v. for the street), cost assessment, ease of construction, aesthetic appropriateness (based on what goals?), and potential to satisfy adjacent parties such as historic commissions.

Maybe some students will give you some advice.  It's a good thought problem for them to take on, and that way it's more an opinion than a free commission.

Good luck, cjard.

Sep 14, 13 2:05 pm
I've never failed to get what I want from a design/planning/historic board. They are pushovers if you know how to sell what you want to them.

You need to focus on the big picture. Hint: it's not just the windows.

I'm also available for consultation, but I recommend hiring a good local architect.
Sep 14, 13 2:07 pm

Which direction does the front of the building face?

Sep 14, 13 2:29 pm

you're right, this is hard.  it'll take a lot of time to figure out something that looks good, can be built, and can get approved by the public/planning board.  that's why architects get paid to do exactly this.  this isn't some kind of hobby.

i agree, just sticking in different windows isn't going to work.

Sep 14, 13 3:06 pm
( o Y o )

Use this as a model for your project. It's all the rage now.

Sep 14, 13 6:24 pm

ddimauro, Volunteer The building is here:,-2.767637

Donna, yes it's quite alright - I expect to be paid for the work I do too so I fully expect that some would immediately assume I'm asking for design work and take to the "pay me and I'll do it" approach, and that's fine.

I'm a software engineer - I contribute on many software forums all the time, giving the unknowing pointers as to how they should be writing their apps, best practice techniques, linking them to tutorials and blogs that are helpful in my professional opinion etc but I don't write their programs for them (unless they pay, and they rarely would), so I don't mind any such comments - theyre entirely reasonable


I should make it clear wasn't asking for someone to design it for me, I was just asking for tips like "consider taking the arch top of the door and replicating it in the windows" or " the angles in the buttress stonework could be copied into a suite of diagonal cills to give an interesting shape to the windows" or "take a look at this famous building that your building seems to get its styling cues from"

Sep 16, 13 4:54 am

OMG lesson to everyone: that little SketchUp drawing totally doesn't do it justice.  What a lovely building! And I didn't realize it was so rural, it's gorgeous!

To me the beauty of the building lies in large part with those expanses of real masonry, so I think it's correct not to make the windows too large.  But it's clearly an industrial building, so something in keeping with that industrial aesthetic is appropriate. For example, big panes of plate glass are not, metal frame (aka "industrial sash") is (for purposes of historic commission review, that is; IMO big sheets of plate glass in aluminum frames would be a great modern counterpoint to the historic fabric, but it might not fly with the powers-that-be). Just dropping something randomly into that big expanse of structural stone is a mistake - it needs to be handled as an opening in a load-bearing masonry wall would have been historically.

Architects tend to dislike arched windows, but you do have a precedent in the arches on the gable ends of the building. But a big half-round similar to what exists would look wrong. An industrial building like this would have been efficient in its use of glass (expensive) and openings that require heavy lintels.  So the skinny vertical windows you considered have some merit, but to me the ones you've drawn look too similar in width to a standard residential double hung.  Something obviously skinnier than usual would point to a use that is *not* residential.  For example, Kentucky tobacco barns have lovely skinny tall openings, they are odd in that they are not typical window proportions but they look intentional because they do serve the specific purpose of letting air blow through to dry the tobacco.  See here and here.

But keep in mind too that you don't necessarily need huge windows to make a nice place to live.  Many city houses bring in light in creative ways; I once worked on a rowhouse in Philadelphia that had a light monitor in the middle of the house that dumped light down into every room from above. You've got skylights already...

Sep 16, 13 8:04 am

Thanks for the photo. The building does face southwest so that is the side that needs opening up to the sun. The issue has been addressed before in the late 1800s in New England when a large number of textile mills were built. They had large windows on the south and west to provide as much light as possible to the textile workers. As many of these mills in New England were influenced by factories in the Midlands in the first place it would seem that similar windows installed in your building would not look out of place? Perhaps your board can reconsider? New England can be every bit as dark and gloomy as the Midlands so the need for abundant light is common toboth places. In any event you can google 'New England textile mills' to see what has been done before.

Sep 16, 13 1:55 pm

I’m a student (sort of) in need of practice, so I’ll add an opinion.

I wouldn’t center the windows like you’ve done in your example for a number of reasons.  I agree with Donna, part of the charm of the building is the expanse of masonry, so the windows should be added in a way that attempts to maintain that feature.  Centering the windows is also not very modern.  If you want to communicate the fact that the windows are modern additions, and not part of the original design, placing them in a modern way is a subtle way to indicate their modernness.   If the windows are placed near the corners of the room, the sunlight will wash across the adjacent walls, allowing smaller windows to have a similar effect when compared to larger windows, as far as lighting goes, because the wall will essentially become a light source. 

With these thoughts in mind, I suggest placing the windows on the edges of the expanse of masonry wall on either side of the door and near the corners of the building.  The door is already an “occasion” so adding windows on either side of it increases its importance.  Placing the other windows near the corners helps keep the expanse of masonry intact.  I’ve used the windows over the door as the unit for the suggested windows.

Sep 16, 13 2:09 pm

Bravo, jw468! I totally forgot to mention that the centered slit windows didn't look good; your drawing shows that not centering them is much better AND you back it up with great logic for how it impacts the interior of the space (which I did not think of)!

Sep 16, 13 3:04 pm

^ Looks like a prison.

I guess if you can get free haircuts at barber school, you can get free designs at architecture school.

Sep 16, 13 6:20 pm

Just replace the sides of the building with glass curtain walls.

Sep 17, 13 1:56 am

jw468, very interesting idea.. I like it - I'll have to see what the older family member's opinion is on it (it's going to be his house too) or variation thereof

reference to Miles' comment - prison is one of the things that has concerned me the most with regards to this. The slim glazing bars are very typical of the period and not very modern. The planning department are happy for the glazing bars to be done away with, but then I think care has to be taken to prevent the windows becoming just empty holes which can make a building rather soul-less. Were it my choice alone, I'd like to investigate the idea of using larger panes but preserve the stone wall effect by sandblasting a stone wall frosted pattern into the pane; trying to achieve a "that's clearly modern versus that's clearly traditional" split

For this reason I wouldn't go for your design Dario, sorry - for me there's not enough shape justification in the front wall to make the semicircles work - nowhere else on the wall has a triangle or circular section of an equivalent proportion/ratio apart from the semicircle stone crest and I think it might look like I was trying too hard to make it look original when what I'm after is somethign that can clearly be identified as a modern addition

As a curio, the previous architects (and they were architects that the former owners engaged) proposed trying to make an original looking facade by use of windows that shared the edge stone detail with the upper panes. They submitted this:

which for me looks way too busy, and the try-hard of making it look original really runs the risk of going wrong. The planners didn't like it either so the architects came back with another proposal that was also rejected:

and finally, this was approved:

I know they had a brief to play it safe, because the previous owners were a company and never had any intention of living within or even developing the building - this was purely gaining permission to enhance the prospect of a sale, but now I'm actually looking to live in it I just want something a little bit more than what's proposed. I do feel that it's lost some industrial character, and looks a bit more like a barn conversion.

I'll have a think on your comments Donna and take a look at the resources you outlined, huge thanks for the pointers!

Sep 17, 13 4:55 am

natematt, I'd love to. I did ask to take those semicircles on the side and from each lower corner go straight down to make a huge arch topped window, like I'd seen on another local building of a similar purpose. Their response was that the other building's windows didn't go all the way to the floor and mine did, so it wasn't suitable. Maybe this was just a justifiable reason for refusal behind an opinion of "we don't like it" but I'll never know. I've got another idea for the side, based on my building's sister building, 2 miles away:,-2.796578

On the south elevation you can see that building had some new openings added with the same stone detail. I'm undecided as to whether it works but maybe it's just because it hasn't mellowed

Sep 17, 13 5:09 am

The planners rejected an actual lintel in a masonry wall but approved a punched opening? They're high.

Sep 17, 13 7:56 am

Municipal planners are idiots. I once listened to one explain in detail and at great length all of the problems associated with 60's and 70's highway-style strip commercial development as a prelude to introducing a zoning plan that was exactly that.

We also have architectural review boards that are empowered to review projects on an aesthetic basis. These are populated with housewives, insurance salesmen, etc. For the most part a rendered elevation with LOTS of mature landscaping hiding whatever you want to do gets past them.

Sep 18, 13 10:26 am

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