About the Author: Webly is the former Project Manager at MPower Oregon

Nothing gets to the heart of either/or thinking better than the ever-present window. No surprise there: windows are expensive, and high quality windows come with a budget-killing pricetag. If your goal is to get as many affordable units into circulation as possible, it’s hard to justify paying a premium for windows. So we settle for smaller windows and fewer of them. We opt for windows that don’t open or windows that don’t perform well in the long run.

But inexpensive windows come with a pricetag of their own. They can leak, especially if they’re not installed properly, causing water damage and potentially inviting toxic mold to boot. And people living with drafty windows will spend more to heat and cool their homes, cranking up the thermostat in a losing battle to knock the chill out of the air.

So as a manager, do you spend scarce funds up front? Or stay on budget while setting the stage for higher operating costs and hefty repair contracts? That’s the kind of either/or question that affordable housing developers struggle with all the time. And it’s exactly why we at MPower are here: To offer financial solutions that can make it possible to stretch upfront dollars as far as they can go without kicking the expenses can down the road.

But that’s not really all there is to it; windows aren’t simply price-points, they’re an essential element of how people experience the world around them.

Windows have evolved in fascinating ways throughout the ages. Imagine your home in the Stone Age: A dark, cold, single-room hut with damp mud or stone walls. Opening a leather flap in a wall opening, you peek out to observe the position of the sun, check for intruders, or provide an escape for your hearth smoke.

Perhaps you lived in medieval Japan or China, and ornate latticework or paper was hung over the openings of your walls, providing a pleasing light (but no thermal barrier).

Maybe you lived in ancient Rome and had a small, thick, piece of milky amber-colored glass. Or perhaps you were a comparatively prosperous 17th century European, enjoying thick spun-glass windows, marked with the distorted whorls of that molten medium. Light came through, and you learned to live with the drafts.

As time passed and technology and materials changed, windows changed. The size and placement of windows telegraphed information about the people who stood before them. Is it the floor-to-ceiling window of a corner office? The high, small window of the tract-house bedroom? The double-hung window of the Craftsman bungalow?

But more evocatively, more than any other element in the built environment, a window’s transparency has the potential to connect us with the rhythms of the outside world. It also affords us the capability to choose when we want to interact with that world, a critical factor in free will.

In the unfeeling steel-and-glass matrix of the modern urban environment, windows often appear opaque, reflecting and magnifying their surroundings while denying their essential transparency. But when they’re thrown open, unfettered by curtains, blinds or shades, they can afford us a new perspective on ourselves, and on our place in the world.
This is a time of great, often uncomfortable questioning, in our city, our country and the world at large. As people who like to consider themselves experts in the technical and literal elements of windows, we humbly suggest that it’s a great time to ponder their metaphorical meaning as well. When the world outside our windows feels cold, insensate or even threatening, perhaps it’s time to throw those barriers wide open: To see the essential humanity in each other, and to take stock of ourselves as neighbors, as citizens, and as human beings.