August 07, 2020

Will Operable Windows Make a Comeback in Commercial?

by Joe Erb

In the 19th century and through more than half of the 20th century, adding significant amounts of fixed glass to buildings was somewhat of a risky business. Architects did so knowing that glare, ventilation and insulation would be an issue. But the aesthetics of glass overpowered its downfalls, and they adapted by adding shade, operable windows and mechanical ventilation for the summer months and insulation panels for the cold winters.
Fast forward through the decades, advancements in HVAC, insulating glass and coatings made building with glass much more feasible and comfortable for tenants. Architects are now able to expand their creativity and create buildings with large lites of glass to take advantage of daylighting and even add complex curvature to their glass designs.

But as the building envelop has tightened through technological advancements, proper ventilation -- introduction of fresh air into a space and the subsequent removal of “stale” air – has remained an important discussion point among architects. It has been proven that access to natural light and fresh air are important aspects of creating healthier buildings and improving occupant comfort.
How can windows play a role in these efforts?
Glass, Light and Healthier Structures
“Wellness architecture” has been widely discussed as one of the most important trends in architecture for several years, and windows are certainly a big part of that.
For example, a study conducted by a professor at Cornell University for View showed that workers with access to outside views and natural light were 2% more productive – the equivalent of an additional $100,000 of annual value for every 100 workers.
Another study detailed in Harvard Business Review placed access to natural light and views of the outdoors as the No. 1 desire for 1,614 North American workers. Forty-seven percent of employees surveyed felt not having access to natural light made them feel tired, and 43% said lack of light made them feel gloomy at work. On the flip side, proximity to natural elements, such as greenery and sunlight, was associated with a 15% increase in well-being and creativity, and 6% higher productivity.
With all the benefits in terms of wellness and overall aesthetics, glass will continue to be an important part of architectural design. But, circling back to my original point – what role do windows play in improving ventilation in commercial buildings?
The answer might be in revisiting past solutions to shape the future. In my opinion, we could see architects reexamine the use of operable window systems in commercial buildings of all sizes as a means to not only let in the light, but to also let in some much-needed fresh air.
Do you see this trend taking off? Let me know what you think. Email me directly at

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Posted: August 07, 2020 by Joe Erb Filed under: commercial, insights, windows