Design & Construction

Windows: Can You See Outside?

Building with no windows

Sometimes the best information comes from off-topic sources. When I was painting, I read the New York Review of Books more often than Art Forum. The principles of artistic work are the same across the arts, but also different. Enough the same to transfer and enough off-topic to give a side view that is new and intriguing. I came across an article today in Fast Company that raised a sideways alert about windows: “Can you see outside?”

Taking Huge Risks

The study was done by CBRE, the largest full-service commercial real estate services company in the world.  A high-value concern when advising business investors on multi-million dollar investments is “What keeps employees around.” The largest office buildings in the world are over 300,000 square feet of floor space. Even less ambitious buildings are approaching 100,000 square feet. Calculating the upfront investment just fried my calculator. I got lost in the zeros.

Financing a large building is a big deal. First, you have to invest all your capital or all the capital you can borrow—or both. Then you hold your breath to see if anyone rents space. After employers rent, do employees stay around long enough to repay all of your debts? Does the office market stay strong? Jobs and the economy?

Windows: Can you see outside?

So if you want to invest in big buildings, it is vitally important to understand what makes people happy. It’s the one thing you can control: the planning and design. What do you want?

The ability to see outside was rated by  55% of employees as the most important. Simple in homes but not so simple in big office buildings. Windows: Can you see outside? This is far above 44% for onsite food and 37% for a nice kitchen. Yes, this is a study of employees in offices. But since employees spend the whole day in the office, it is reasonable to assume that the same desire applies to a living space. This is particularly true when people are spending more time working from home.

Tiny house with one small window

In my cohousing community of 43 units, well over half are occupied by adults most of the day, most days of the week. Several of the others are occupied by children and childcare workers. Everyone is busy with a job or other purposeful activity, but they are in their homes for more daylight hours than their offices. This may be the first time since the 1970s that if a household had two adults, in a majority both would be away from the home 40+ hours a week.*

Transferring Knowledge

It is unlikely that CBRE will be doing a similar study on homes anytime soon. But this one might be very useful. One measure of competence is the capacity to apply acquired knowledge and skills to new situations. We have to take it where we find it.  And test it. What can we learn from the study results?

When you realize that many jurisdictions require windows. The ability to see outside is something most homeowners take for granted. They might rank big windows highest, wall-sized windows, but the fact of windows would be assumed. It’s hard to measure assumptions. But they are the most important in making decisions. In offices, windows are not assumed so their absence is remarkable.

An example of the importance of windows I found in a documentary on apartments in Scandinavia. In one, the bedroom for two boys was slightly larger than their bunk beds. There was a small space to walk into the room between the beds and a narrow window seat across from them. But the entire wall above the narrow seat was a window. The room was bright and airy. The experience was like that of a room as large as that space.

Can you see outside—and can you …

The ability to see outside can be used in designing the walls and positioning sightlines inside. But what else? There are many decisions to make in designing a home. What about the bathroom? The sleeping area? Entertaining? Cooking? Storage?

The second two most desired options were onsite food sources, 44%, and a nice kitchen, 37%. Some want a place to stock food and others want a place to make meals. Most revealing is those two having a total of 81%. Room for food storage and a nice space to prepare food are also a strong preference in daily living.

What is the most important?

With limited resources, even if you have chosen to live with limited resources, you can’t have everything. Even with unlimited resources, few people have that. The best course of action is to understand what is most important?


* In the early and mid-1970s, countries began dropping their laws that required women to have the husband’s permission to work outside the home.

Reference: “The one thing employees really want in a workspace” by Even Nicole Brown in Fast Company, January 2020.

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