Architecture Design Basics – Openings

The act of creating architecture can be seen as a problem solving process. Early phases of design will focus on establishing the problematic conditions of the project, and committing to finding a solution to those problems.


A designer will draw on experience, their existing design language to resolve issues and develop solutions. The following post (forming part of our Design Basics series) looks at openings, specifically window openings.


Windows perform a number of functions including allowing light into a room, ventilation, creating a view and connection with the external context.


Daylight will differ according to the time of day, the time of year and will depend on different locations. Daylight has a positive psychological effect as well as the practical benefits of reducing energy requirements for lighting.


Light can enter a building in a number of ways – direct sunlight, skylight and diffuse light, external reflected light and internal reflected light from room surfaces.

Architecture sources of lightPositioning of openings

The options for positioning openings are numerous. Here we will take a look at some of these possibilities.

Within Planes

An opening can be positioned within a plane. For example, the opening can be centred on a wall, off centre, a selection of openings grouped on a wall or perhaps a ceiling skylight.

Positioning an opening within a plane, has many possibilities, which in turn will provide different visual outcomes.


An opening that is centred on a plane will give a balanced and stable appearance, whereas a window that is off centre can great a visual tension.


Consider the shape of the openings and whether it is contrasting with the shape of the enclosing plane, or is it complementing the shape of the plane? Multiple openings on a plane can be set out in a uniform manner, or staggered and dispersed to create a sense of movement on the plane.


An opening can become the positive element of the plane by increasing in size so that it is no longer a figure within the plane.


An opening can be positioned on a corner. So the opening may be along a single edge, along two edges or the opening may even turn a corner. A selection of openings can be grouped at a corner, and similarly, a skylight can be positioned at a corner of a space.

A corner opening may be used to capture a view or create a composition within a room. A corner window will allow light to wash the surface of the adjacent planes, creating a favourable source of light and improving the brightness of the space.

Between Planes

Openings can also be positioned between planes, so the window could be vertical between the floor and ceiling plane, or horizontal between two wall planes.


A vertical opening between planes will visually separate and identify the edges of the adjacent planes. If the vertical opening is positioned at a corner, the definition of the room space will be changed, allowing the space to extend beyond the corner. Again the light will wash over the adjacent surfaces allowing a bright space. Furthermore, if the vertical opening turns the corner, the definition of space will be further eroded and more light will be flooded into the space.


Horizontal openings across a wall will give the appearance of horizontal layers. It creates a panoramic view which when allowed to turn a corner will further enhance the view.


A skylight located along a plane will allow light to enter and wash over the adjacent planes. The skylight can be designed to capture direct sunlight, diffuse light or a combination of both.


Quality of light can change according to the time of year, time of the day, and location. Light can either be direct sunlight, or diffuse daylight, along with reflecting surfaces. A room can be animated by the changing shades, tones and shadows that light will create throughout the day. The intensity, path and direction of the sun is predictable, and as such we are able to accurately anticipate the effect of a window size, shape, location, orientation within an enclosure and how it will impact a room. Sun path diagrams can be very useful to plan openings.

07 sun path light

The size of a window will determine how much light enters a room, but other considerations need to be taken into account. Does the opening need to create a view, provide ventilation, give privacy? Does the window receive direct sunlight, and will it need shading? If a window is receiving direct sunlight, it can create issues with glare and solar heat gain.


By orientating a window away from the direct sunlight, a room can receive diffuse light throughout the day, which is a good balanced light.


Another important factor when considering an opening is the view. What is the focus of the room? Some rooms will have an inward focus, while others will be looking to the outside, or perhaps an adjacent space.


The size and location of the window will be determined by the requirements of the outlook, and how much visual privacy is needed.


A small window can create a frame for a view, so that it is like a painting on a wall. A long narrow window can give us a glimpse of a view, leaving us wanting to discover more. A larger window begins to create a vista, the external scene becomes the most dominant part of the room.


Interior openings can offer views and feelings of space as the user can see from one space to another. An overhead skylight can create a view to the sky, or perhaps the trees above. Bay windows can create a small nook for people to sit in, and feel completely immersed in the view or outside scene.



The design of openings in a building require numerous considerations as to their requirements and impacts on the overall internal space and exterior. Some of the suggestions above hopefully will help you consider these possibilities in your own design. We have a Pinterest board dedicated to windows!

Check it out here for some inspiration.

Book Recommendation and reference:

Architecture form space and orderFORM SPACE AND ORDER РFRANCIS CHING 

A truly vital resource for all architecture students, and indeed any book from Francis Ching. Highly recommend.

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  1. good job


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