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									    Marcelo Viana




    Windows



    Whether in a classroom or an office, a window is very important to a room. Rooms with

windows in big office buildings are often reserved to the higher members of the staff.

Apartments with lots of windows or large ones are frequently more expensive. Homeowners rave

about their views. Airplanes have windows. To punish a prisoner for some behavioral

dysfunction, they are put in rooms with no windows. In movies, to show confinement, they

deprive sets of windows. But why are windows so important to our spaces?


    Regarding surroundings.


    In The Power of Place (1993), Gallagher analyses the effect of the NICU (Neo-natal

Intensive Care Unit) in the life of preemies. NICUs are meticulously controlled environments to

help ease the preemie’s transition from the womb to the outside world. One of its jobs is to

ensure that during the months the preemies spend there, they receive the approximately same

amount of stimulus that they would receive if they hadn’t yet been born, in other words, to

simulate the womb. Gallagher shows that despite all the research that has been involved in the

creation of NICUs, we cannot fully simulate the experience of being inside the body of another

person. The hospital environment is harsh and sterile to humans and especially to newborns.

Preemies will often times develop behavioral dysfunctions in their following years due to their
period of stay in an NICU. For example in the outside world if the baby hears something and

turns the head to get more information, he will see some kind of activity or at least the source of

that sound, and in the baby’s first weeks that will be predominantly his mother’s. In the NICU,

most of the times the baby will see nothing and will not recognize any source for that sound.

This disrupts a very basic but also very important function that links the baby with the outside

world. If he sees nothing when he turns the head to the direction of the sound, then he will

gradually learn not to look again, losing the interest in this stimulus.


    By looking at the case of preemies we can identify some important basic needs that we have.

It is indispensable for the human being to be able to communicate effectively with the outside

world, in other words, to be able to interact with the surroundings in a manner that enhances our

ability to exist. Not only the surroundings affect us in psychological and physiological levels, but

they also shape the way we deal with subsequent places. In this example we can demonstrate that

a surrounding perfectly molded to provide the basic needs for the lives of newborns is still

unsatisfying in providing the correct amount of stimuli that they need to shape their relation with

the world outside the womb. Simulating a natural environment is a very hard task because it is

hard to measure and analyze the nature of the stimuli they provide us. Humans now live in places

that have almost nothing in common with the way our body evolved, in other words, our

evolution was guided by our dwellings and for the largest part of the human species history, that

was in natural environments. Only from some three thousand years to now that we became city

dwellers and that wasn’t true to the majority of the world’s population until two thousand years

ago. This change in place was and still is very traumatic for the human race as we are in constant

search of the perfect urban environment. Urban environments are, as opposed to nature, very

confined and agglomerated. The colors we have in our streets, in our houses and cars are not
those we had in nature in our distant past. Instead of living in natural shelters or even in the open

we have created houses that have evolved to apartment buildings, further increasing the sense of

confinement, but also generating a very different analysis of Place. In natural environments,

humans have learned to perceive place as being set on the ground and expandable only in

extension but in our society today, space is expanded vertically too. We had to learn how to live

with smaller and stacked spaces so we have created a number of devices to maintain our link

with the extensions and one of the most successful and simple are windows.


    A good way to exemplify the nature of windows is to look at Architecture. For instance,

windows in catholic churches are often times hidden from the main aisle or covered by colored

glass in order to extirpate the exit quality off of them and imbue them with another function.

Churches are places that you should be in touch with yourself and the world of God, so providing

imaginative exits is not desirable. In office buildings windows are reserved to the more important

members of staff, many times they are used as a way of defining hierarchy—the boss always has

the room with tall windows on the top floor. In contrast, apartment building plans always take

into consideration the positioning of windows in every room. The main difference in these two

examples is the function of the space. Offices are in most cases spaces that require concentrated

attention in one task and freedom is not always necessary to its completion. It is not surprising

that, with the popularization of the Internet and almost all computers in offices having access to

it, that it would be use as a form of escape. Computer screens disrupted the windowless nature of

office buildings. (more on this later)


    The basic concept behind a home is the sense of generating a Place. We humans have the

ability of shaping any surrounding to turn it into a space we can dwell in, in other words, place

ourselves in. The same happens in larger scale for cities. The evolution of a city is also a constant
process of turning it into a home, a place for the entire population. San Francisco is an especially

―placy‖ city due to its geography and the overall character of the city, as shown in Reclaiming

San Francisco (1998), by Brook, Carlsson and Peters. One can be in any street in the city and

know he is in San Francisco. Extended views also provide a sense of location more than being

surrounded by flat land or other buildings. The city very defined neighborhoods also contribute

to the sense of place that is created. It is easy to find a new place of escape in San Francisco for

the settings always define a new place. As shown in the book, the history of the city and also the

recent developments both contribute to its character.


    The creation of Places.


    Unsatisfied with his surroundings, a person will try to either shape it in a different way or

create a new one. More commonly he is most likely to transport himself to an imaginary place to

find an escape and most of the times this imaginary place will be based on past experiences in

life, a mix of various different places and situations that make that place somewhat of a refuge.

When we do any activity that involves thinking we create an imaginary place in which we reside

for the duration of the activity, may it be a sentence or the time it takes to read a book. In that

sense, any activity can become an escape. A good example of how we create places for anything

we do is looking into art. Be it landscapes, places in a more literal sense, or music, when we

experience art in any form we are transported to an imaginary place created by the artist for

ourselves. This is not to imply that we don’t have control over this intellectual creation but rather

that we are directed towards this process by art. The same happens with almost anything that

involves sensorial perception. We are directed by simple speech to inhabit an imaginative place

for a certain period of time as we are by music.
    Also in the realm of imaginary places, it is important to mention computer mediated

communication and its implications in the human geography today. In Virtual Geographies

(1999), the authors Mike Crang, Phil Crang and Jon May, define Cyberspace is a general

amalgamation of the places created by the new technologies: the World Wide Web, Virtual

Reality, hypertext and genres of science fiction such as cyberpunk. Computer mediated

communication is freeing itself from geographical barriers and creating a Virtual Geography, in

cyberspace everything is at the same place at the same time. It was naturally created in a manner

that the real world’s standards are of no concern to its dwellers; in cyberspace the mind is what

primarily defines a person. It is problematic to state that the being in the cyberspace is not

influenced or dependent of the real world, but the intellectual creation of place through the use of

computer–mediated technology is what is really important for this text.


    This virtual place defines the computer screen as a window. As much as physical windows

link ourselves with the outside world and situate us in a definite space, screens are an opening to

a way of defining a place. With more possibilities than a real window due to the power of new

technologies, screens act as an infinite number of windows that we can actively chose to look

through. Through them a person can also be dwelling in an infinite number of places at the same

time but there is additionally a sense of the one place, the one machine that we inhabit, the one

that leads us to those windows. Furthermore, the machine becomes the window for windows, the

actual definer of place. You can close and open windows inside the computer but you cannot

make the machine appear and disappear so it serves as a physical link as well, like regular

windows do. The ability to open and close real windows though, was not invented to give you

control to whether or not you want to be exploring that place, but rather as a functional attribute.

On a computer screen the functional is still present but moreover it serves as a control for the
viewer’s location giving it the power to switch places easily, like a person would in an art gallery

looking from piece to piece. The main concept of this was to organize the experience but with

the expansion of computer-mediated information, it took on a greater meaning.


    Cyberspace can, in that case, be seen as the geography created by the possibilities of having

control over infinite windows using a computer. The concept of exit is intrinsically present in

cyberspace as it is in our process of defining place. More importantly, computer mediated

information is a way of actively positioning windows to control linkage to the exit. In other

words, the person can make use of the cyberspace’s infinite space to generate imaginative exits

in a tremendously powerful way. This is the main concept behind online games and more

importantly behind MMORPG (Massively Multiplayer Online Role-playing Games).


    For six months in 1998, I was Jeremy in a world called Sosaria, in a continent called

Britannia, living in a house in the outskirts of Trinsic, while playing the game Ultima Online

(http://www.uo.com). Although this is a very straightforward creation of place through

computer-mediated information, which therefore, would make it useless to my analysis, some

aspects of this game ought to be investigated. In Ultima Online more than any other game, you

were able to create a character and live a life on screen that simulated many things present in our

imaginative places when reading fantasy books. You are able to build houses and populate them

with items that range from cupboards to candles, floor tiles and even mirrors. This was probably

the most powerful aspect of the game. At one point there were tens of thousands of players

inhabiting this world at the same time, from all over the globe. The system was so powerful that

player–run cities were established and living in Ultima Online was becoming a profession to

some. Of course, the ultimate objective of the game was to try to develop your character’s skills

and to become stronger and richer, as this is the way games are set, but with no way of ever
reaching the end of the game, this was enhanced in such a way that it become a secondary

objective to many players. One interesting aspect of this virtual world is that it didn’t try to

simulate real life; rather, it was creating a world based on the imaginative world. It became a

window to an imaginative exit and therefore a very powerful exit. The real important aspect of

this example is to demonstrate that the reason cyberspace is so powerful is that it strays away

from being only a physical escape.


    Defining windows.


    In the same manner culture transforms a wood structure that serves as shelter and storage, in

a home, a window transforms the space in a room, into a place. It links the space with the

surroundings, situating the room in a certain area. This is subsequently extended to the person,

which is then situated in a certain place. One of the reasons traveling during the night in

airplanes is so stressful is that for the duration of this period the person has a great difficulty in

perceiving place. This is aggravated by a number of circumstances, but day travel is a lot less

frustrating because one can see the sky, and sometimes the ground, so even not locating

themselves on the globe correctly a link with the world they know is present. Windows are links

more than they are access ways; they serve as a framing device for the outside and at the same

time as an imaginative exit. It seems reasonable to affirm that windows define place by providing

this imaginative exit in a way that doorways are not capable of and this seems to reside in the

fact that doorways only function effectively as definers of place when they remain opened. In

that case, we define windows as constantly open links to another space.


    This definition of window also allows us to explore the concept of exit and escape in the

generation of places. It seems that the word that most successfully describe this would be
freedom. The human mind needs freedom to connect to the inner self. This freedom is actually a

liberation of thinking, a way of separating the physical and rational from the possibilities that the

mind can explore if given the freedom to. Windows provide the room with freedom, by giving

the mind the ability to wander outside the physical restrictive space that its body is located in. It

is possible to have the same exit point in a painting on the wall but the human mind links the

actual existing freedom of the outside of the window more easily than it does with

representations. The more space the person gets to fill in, the more liberating the window is. A

person looks outside a window and sees another building wall blocking the open and looks

outside another on the top of a tall edifice, the openness of space provides him with more

freedom of options, a larger range of intellectual associations. Abstract works of art explored

this. Illustrative paintings are more definitive settings and therefore need less input from the

viewer, in contrast an abstract impressionist painting will require a high degree of viewer

interaction to extend the meaning from just what is visually represented on the canvas.


    It has been proven throughout history that freedom is the most significant element in the

development of a culture, which can be fruitfully reduced to the level of the individual. Because

windows associate so directly and effectively with this basic need of ours, they are essential to

the generation of a livable place either being definers of place, by providing them with the much-

needed exit, or merely as an opening that indicates the possibility of physically leaving the space.

								
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