Housing and Community Development

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Apartment without windows

  • 1.  Apartment without windows

    Posted 09-25-2012 01:23 PM
    This article was published a few weeks ago in Richmond Va's Style Weekly about new developments having units without windows.


    As an architect would you advise a developer to building units without windows?

    Katherine Williams AIA
    Colonial Heights VA

  • 2.  RE:Apartment without windows

    Posted 09-26-2012 07:47 AM
    Hello Katherine.  No, of course not, and I'm sure, neither would you.  As a matter of fact, I look for every opportunity to fit in more glass, wherever I can, where it makes sense and can provide a view, natural light and possibly ventilation.  Especially for a developer: in this sluggish economy: they need lots of appeal to have a design advantage over other units for sale and having more glass, should in general (depending on the circumstances) and to a certain extent, make housing more desirable.  This of course is with the proviso that there is something worth looking at, but even a parking lot view in dense apartments, filtered through draperies would be better than a hermetically sealed windowless box. 

    Rand Soellner AIA
    Home Architects
    Cashiers NC

  • 3.  RE:Apartment without windows

    Posted 09-27-2012 09:38 AM

    Even jail cells are required to have natural light. We can't treat people like the things we put in mini-storage units.Reduced natural light failed in the open plan schools in the seventies, failed in the closed of laboratory teaching environments, and it will fail here. People just like to see outside when if they are inside.
    Dennis Thompson AIA
    MNA, Inc.
    Denver CO

  • 4.  RE:Apartment without windows

    Posted 09-27-2012 12:35 PM
    I'm not going to defend anyone who designs an entire building without windows, but being as most posts have been adamant about requiring natural light and ventilation in each habitable room, I suggest that we lobby to get the building codes changed.

    Under the IRC, one and two family dwellings are required to have emergency escape and egress windows in all bedrooms, habitable attics and basements; but multi-family dwellings do not have the same requirement. (A windowless door from a bedroom onto an exterior corridor or balcony may comply with this requirement.)

    But, since an apartment building is not a one- or two- family structure, the IRC is typically the applicable code, and does not require "emergency escape", since the more stringent IBC requirements for means of egress apply.

    The 2012 IBC states : 

    <marked!--$$tag:upar,,chapter 2‚="" section="" 202‚="" (habitable_space),0,(habitable_space)--="">HABITABLE SPACE.</marked!--$$tag:upar,,chapter> A space in a building for living, sleeping, eating or cooking. Bathrooms, toilet rooms, closets, halls, storage or utility spaces and similar areas are not considered habitable spaces. 


    <marked!--$$tag:upar,,chapter 12‚="" section="" 1203‚="" (1),0,(1)--="">1203.1 General.</marked!--$$tag:upar,,chapter> 
    Buildings shall be provided with natural ventilation in accordance with Section 1203.4, or mechanical ventilation in accordance with the International Mechanical Code


    <marked!--$$tag:upar,,chapter 12‚="" section="" 1205‚="" (1),0,(1)--="">1205.1 General.</marked!--$$tag:upar,,chapter> 
    Every space intended for human occupancy shall be provided with natural light by means of exterior glazed openings in accordance with Section 1205.2 or shall be provided with artificial light in accordance with Section 1205.3. 

    As offensive as this may seem from an aesthetic standpoint, the code does currently allow mechanical ventilation and light. Mechanical light and ventilation is optional, not mandatory, and leaves the design decision to the judgment of the design professional. Aesthetic considerations aside, what one person may deem an abomination, another architect may see as a code-compliant, creative solution to a difficult design problem.

    Moreover, as distasteful as this all seems, unless we work to change the code, you cannot (even in this narrow sense) legislate aesthetics.

    So I suggest that rather than state the obvious, that is, that we all know that in most circumstances natural light and ventilation is preferable to mechanical light and ventilation, we need to become actively involved in changing the code so it no longer allows mechanical ventilation and light in each habitable room in lieu of natural light and ventilation.

    And next time we find ourselves with no choice but to create a windowless room (for instance, a kitchen, which is considered habitable space under the code), even when it opens directly onto another room with plenty of windows, we remember that we got what we asked for. (Doesn't a skylight that you cannot see anything other than the sky above provide natural light? 
    I would hope this would be a baseline criteria for any architect, but nothing in the code currently requires that you provide a view from a window.)

    By the way, next time you're in an office building with plenty of fixed windows (natural light, but no natural ventilation) in each habitable space, ask yourself where the ventilation is coming from before you ask that code section 1203.1 be changed.

    David Del Vecchio AIA
    David Del Vecchio, Architect, LLC
    Cranford NJ

  • 5.  RE:Apartment without windows

    Posted 09-26-2012 08:30 AM
    The codes, depending on which state your project is being built, do not allow an apartment with no windows. It is not allowed from the standpoints of egress and ventilation. There are exceptions to every rule, but here in Florida, it is not an option.

    Terry Lessard Assoc. AIA
    Lessard Development Group, LLC
    Delray Beach FL

  • 6.  RE:Apartment without windows

    Posted 09-26-2012 08:36 AM
    There is a multitude of studies lauding the "just as many" benefits of natural light in every type of facility imaginable.

    The human animal has always been strongly associated with the outdoors, and the indirect relationship with the outdoors through windows and other architectural elements when we are indoors has, and continues to prove essential for the well being of individuals. I can't imagine the feeling of being "boxed in" when in a "living unit!" That is existing, not living.

    Also becoming more numerous, and in addition to the many studies mentioned above, there studies concerned with the detrimental effects on humans due to a lack of association with the outdoors and all of its natural elements. Most of these are concerned with kids and the way technology is providing them a diversion from the outdoor environment(s). Many early years schools are beginning to require exterior learning environments so kids can become more aware of, and involved with, the natural world around them.

    I am sure there are code issues related to window requirements that developers can get around," but my hope is that based on human wellfare, that possibility will soon no longer exist.    

    George Jennings AIA
    G Booker 3
    Tappahannock VA

  • 7.  RE:Apartment without windows

    Posted 09-26-2012 09:24 AM
    Surely this is a spoof. If not, well, unbelievable! ------------------------------------------- Mike Mense FAIA Owner mmenseArchitects Anchorage AK -------------------------------------------

  • 8.  RE:Apartment without windows

    Posted 09-26-2012 09:58 AM
    I would have to agree that this topic is pure non-sense.  It is entirely wrong to design or be associated with any habitable space whether it be bedrooms, living rooms, or otherwise without natural light and ventilation.  I mean, really?  

    Only Powder Rooms, Bathrooms, Hallways, Closets, and Kitchenettes can legitimately be windowless.  And then some of these spaces have to be provided with mechanical ventilation at the very least.  And with the Energy Conservation Construction Code shift to tighten building envelopes to a point of no air infiltration, then mechanical / natural ventilation is required throughout new residential spaces.

    I am a little frightened that this is even a discussion amongst professionals.

    Philip Mitropoulos AIA
    Firm Owner/Architect
    Mitropoulos Architects
    Douglaston NY

  • 9.  RE:Apartment without windows

    Posted 09-26-2012 09:54 AM
    Besides possible code violations, this one needs no further explanation. No windows, no occupants. What is wrong with people?

    Lee Calisti AIA
    lee CALISTI architecture+design
    Greensburg PA

  • 10.  RE:Apartment without windows

    Posted 09-27-2012 08:30 AM
    I agree entirely with Lee Calisti, no windows, no occupants! Period!

    Denis Cassidy AIA
    Senior Architect
    Claris Construction Inc
    Waterbury CT

  • 11.  Apartment without windows

    Posted 09-26-2012 10:03 AM
    Apartments without windows will always be sub-standard, though the codes allow it technically. Some people don't open windows anyway, but there's something instrinsic to existence that we stay in touch with the diurnal cycle and catch views from time to time.  Promoting the idea goes against my instincts. If it were desirable, we would have moved underground a long time ago - in spites of all the benefits of moving underground, our senses reject a (literally) sub-grade alternative.
    Allen E Neyman
    Rockville MD

  • 12.  RE:Apartment without windows

    Posted 09-26-2012 10:53 AM
    Heck no! Not only is it a hideous mutation of housing and really bad for your health, what happened to the part of the building code that requires natural light and ventilation?

    Judith Wasserman AIA
    Bressack & Wasserman
    Palo Alto CA

  • 13.  RE:Apartment without windows

    Posted 09-26-2012 01:14 PM
    After just spending three days at the Academy of Neuroscience for Architecture conference, I can say definitively that this is a very bad idea.

    Kate Svoboda-Spanbock AIA, CID
    HERE Design and Architecture
    Los Angeles CA

  • 14.  RE:Apartment without windows

    Posted 09-27-2012 04:06 PM
    I've read some tragic stories of the homeless taking shelter in windowless storage units (when the overhead door is closed).  In central PA, my 10x10 windowless storage unit costs the same as a low-income subsidized highrise apartment.

    Frank Marshall AIA
    SMB&R Inc
    Camp Hill PA

  • 15.  RE:Apartment without windows

    Posted 09-27-2012 10:05 AM
    For a second, I thought I was reading The Onion.  Even here in NYC, where apartments are as small as 400 SF, and we routinely convert commercial buildings with deep floor plates into dwelling units, it would be unthinkable to have an apartment without windows.

    Richard Saunderson AIA
    New York NY

  • 16.  RE:Apartment without windows

    Posted 09-28-2012 11:56 AM
    In NYC we also deal with the Multiple Dwelling Law ( MDL ) that further establishes such things as minimum room dimensions, natural light, and ventilation.  We often run into problems at the Building Department when trying to create open plan arrangements by combining non-habitable spaces with habitable ones, and the existing window sizes will not support the new floor areas.

    In NYC these things are highly regulated, and I concur with Richard - we would never design an apartment without windows.

    Andrew Fethes AIA
    Andrew Fethes Architects PA
    Oradell NJ

  • 17.  RE:Apartment without windows

    Posted 09-27-2012 03:28 PM
    Yes, windowless apartments can be built "to the code".
    Provide artificial light and ventilation.  Install a fire suppression system.  Maybe provide a minimum level of egress illumination.

    But what about the total emergency situation?  When the power and the emergency power are knocked out.  If I can find my flashlight, and if the batteries still work and if I remember the hallways and stairs, I might just get out.

    This type of "fall thru the cracks" projects are why I have come to the conclusion that the model code agency along with building officials are just going too far/too fast.  Proposed code amendments and testimony at hearings are a part from special interest groups- lighting manufacturers, sprinkler salesmen, etc. wanting to get their product included.  Building officials want something in writing to cover themselves; afraid of legal litigation. 
    Appointed appeals boards who are afraid to say "no" or do not want to be viewed as not progressive, just cave into builders and developers wishes.

    Building it "to code" has become more important than just doing it right.   


    D. Cook AIA
    Tipp City OH

  • 18.  RE:Apartment without windows

    Posted 09-27-2012 04:48 PM

    Martha Andrews FAIA
    Andrews Architects, Inc.
    Portland OR
    Thanks for providing this link.  This is astonishing -- and in my judgment, pretty awful.

    To the best of my knowledge, we haven't seen these windowless proposals yet in the Pacific Northwest.  But we are seeing buildings with so-called one-bedroom apts. that are actually very deep flats with the "bedroom" area separated only from the living room -- where the windows are -- by a built-in closet or room divider that stops short of the ceiling.   Technically, I guess they're really studio units, since the building code lumps the living and sleeping areas as one room.  But they're marketed as one-bedroom units.  Some natural light gets to that interior area (and if designed well, can be quite nice.)

    Throughout the state of Oregon, the statewide building code (based on the IBC with amendments)  -- not local planning commissions -- would require that there be some natural light.  At least that's how I've always understood the building code's requirements.  But now you've got me to wondering if designers / developers could get away with windowless apartments here too! 

    The article is insightful, and I agree with all the reasons stated that humans need  natural light, daily.  There is some irony in the article that quotes the developer who never opens the windows in either of his two houses!  Clearly he and his family are financially able to make some housing choices that a whole lot of people are shut out of -- and can only afford to rent his apartments instead.  In a more perfect world, he would be sentenced to living 90 days in his own building.

  • 19.  windowless apartments

    Posted 09-28-2012 02:35 PM
    This message has been cross posted to the following Discussion Forums: Custom Residential Architects Network and Housing Knowledge Community .
    We had some discussion about this issue a while back. This all started with the 2010 IBC. Since 1920 all habitable spaces have been required to have natural light and ventilation but in 2010 the Code Council decided to change all that for some reason. Remember, it is now called the "International Building Code", not the "Uniform Building Code". They are trying to market their product worldwide now. Is this a progressive change? Now we can pack our 7 billion + inhabitants into smaller spaces. Maybe the code just needs to be tweaked a bit- say, required artificial light must be full-spectrum and automatically controlled to mimic natural light levels. Maybe require each apartment to have a flat-screen monitor built in to a wall somewhere with an approved, real-time picture of a nice view from some far-off, pastoral locale?  

    David Del Vecchio has a good point- here in San Francisco we have many row houses with no way to put windows in any room that doesn't face the street or rear yard except with light wells which sacrifice space while providing only limited light and three-foot views to another window or blank wall. Is it bad design to locate a kitchen there with no window? Before 2010 kitchens were specifically exempt from this requirement.  'What about a home office or media room? Maybe the requirement should only apply to bedrooms and living rooms? Are skylights sufficient solutions for our psychological needs? How about slope-glazing? Minimum 4 in 12 pitch? In some situations I can imagine wonderful views from skylights or slope-glazing but in other situations skylights could be intolerable. 

    It's obviously complicated. In San Francisco we have a City code amendment that requires natural light in all habitable rooms, excluding kitchens, in dwellings but not natural ventilation. This seems to be a reasonable attempt to deal with the problem but it's not perfect. The IRC allows exceptions to the natural light and ventilation requirements by providing artificial light and mechanical ventilation. It also requires bedrooms to have emergency escape openings but no requirement that they be glazed. The IBC allows the same exceptions to the natural light and ventilation requirements and requires emergency escape openings in bedrooms below the fourth story.  The rationale behind this is that wood-frame buildings are limited to three stories so if you have a fourth story it will have to be of Type I or II construction and, consequently, more fire-resistive.

    So, now we can build giant apartment buildings with no openings other than an entrance door from the corridor in each apartment. Whoopee! Think of the possibilities!  Buildings of this type are required everywhere to be designed by architects but we are such whores. When the economy takes a dive and our only client insists on maximizing rentable space, what's a poor RA to do?

    What can be done will be done. What shall we do?

    A. Atkinson
    A. Gordon Atkinson, Architect
    San Francisco CA

  • 20.  RE:windowless apartments

    Posted 09-28-2012 03:47 PM
    I'm glad someone actually got my point. I'm not saying it is good design, only that the code allows it. In fact, it has been allowed it under BOCA since 1984. 

    BOCA 1981 required that each habitable space have "some" amount of windows opening "to the sky", and that 6 foot-candles of natural light be available at a point 30 inches off the floor, and that 400 cu. ft. of air be provided per occupant; but then says that if these numbers cannot be provided by natural means, then they must be supplemented with artificial light and ventilation. Regardless, you still needed to provide windows, although the size was not specified by code.

    In BOCA 1984, the language had changed to "either natural or artificial light and ventilation".

    In 1987, I was asked at my first job out of school in a large firm to design dormitories for nurses in a building near a local medical center without any windows. I didn't think you could even do this under the code, but the firm's code maven pointed out the appropriate sections to me. I convinced my boss to at least add skylights on the top floor. I left that firm soon after.

    One more anecdote, I once submitted plans for a variance for a small house on a 50'x100' lot that together with the driveway, detached garage and walks covered 49% of the lot. The zoning allowed 50% coverage. We required an unrelated variance which we got, but not before an architect on the Zoning Board asked why we proposed covering so much of the lot with this 1,800 sq. ft. house. I asked him if he ever got a speeding ticket for doing 49 mph in a 50 mph zone.

    David Del Vecchio AIA
    David Del Vecchio, Architect, LLC
    Cranford NJ