A Study of A Window

Why did architect Ove Bang include a door in his window design?

(extract from “A study of a Window” written for the module Representations of Cities 2013)

Built on the border of the built up area, in the hills surrounding Oslo, the southeastern facade of this modest, wooden villa is dominated by a large 4,55mx4,55m window. A door providing access to the garden and near surroundings is included into the design. How could this be understood as a representation of a wider space?

To answer this question, Henri Lefebvre’s understanding of space as socially produced, has proven itself fruitful. In The Production of Space, Lefebvre proposes a triadic formulation of spatiality, each of the three moments are referring to different notions of concrete, abstract or lived space. Spatial practice is the concrete space, the tangible walls, roads and windows. Representations of space is the abstract representations of these, being drawings, legislations or researchers articulations. The third Representational space defines the space constantly produced and reproduced in social, everyday life. The imagery and symbolism of this space have their sources in history, through collective or individual memory, identity and imagination. The cultural construct of Norwegian identity being in close and unique contact with nature is highly prevalent, also involving architectural design and history. When writing a history of Norwegian architecture, Christian Norberg-Schulz describes the nations presupposed conditions as difficult topography, unreliable climate, long dark winters and “in general the hardest conditions of life”. According to him, being a province of Denmark between 1380-1814, and then in union with Sweden until 1905 moulded a provincial, peasant culture. A close bond with nature was defined as a national identity in the currents of Romanticism and fight for independence at the end of the nineteenth century. According to Norberg-Schulz, this identity is a defining element of the architecture of the nation (supported by his phenomenological approach to the built environment).

The Spatial practice of including a door in a window design, would correspond with this Representational space, where the symbolism and imagery of a National identity would continuously be produced whenever the habitants used the door to access their garden or the close surroundings. From the terrance in front of the window, the user could turn right an follow a small path leading towards the west almost directly into the wild forrest surrounding Oslo. Historically, these woodlands has been a place for outdoor activities, social gathering and even experiencing youthful sexuality, awarding nature a strong, social value. This correspond to the national imagery outlined by Norberg-Schulz.

The border separating the city from the wild forest to the west, north and east, was drawn up by practical reasons in 1934, and now protected by legislation since 2009, guaranteeing all citizen to live within short distance from wild nature. The southern edge of the city is framed by the fjord, completing the popular slogan describing Oslo as “The Blue, The Green and the City in between”. The Oslo Forest and Countryside Act, from 2009 is brimming with conclusive adjectives describing the forest as ‘rich’ and ‘varied’. This spatiality corresponds with Lefebvre’s second moment of social space, Representations of space. The space produced by Bang’s design and the everyday rhythm of the users are made abstract and communicated through the use of the legal format and stylised sentences. The production of space is taken into the courthouses and various lawyers offices, where the space is interpreted, written and distributed. The same could be said about the slogan “The Blue, The Green…” which produce a specific spatiality aiming at attracting tourists and investors to the northern hemisphere.

Lefebvre’s theory has proven itself as a beneficial gateway into a new understanding of how a window design can relate to a broader urban structure, social life and a national history and identity. Overall it highlights Borden’s fundamental claim that “Architects’ design are simply representations within a wider urban production which also encompasses spatial practice and spaces of representations”, bringing new questions, answers and angles into the light.

Back to The Fenestral Essay Film