People Who Live In Glass Houses...Don't Look Out The Windows

A new study finds most people pull the shades on their expansive (and expensive) views.

In the architecture world, glass is in. The skyscraper of the future is transparent. From the Burj Khalifa to the soon-to-be-completed Freedom Tower to the so-called "Invisible Tower" to the latest and greatest condos in New York City, the towering glass facade has become the norm. People must be loving all those views, right?

Well, not exactly. According to a study from the Urban Green Council, practically no one looks out the windows. The group surveyed 55 glassy buildings around New York City and found that across the board, most of the occupants had drawn the shades. Regardless of the time of day, the direction the windows faced, or whether the space was an office or a home, buildings across the city covered an average of 59% of their window area. More than 75% of buildings had shades drawn on more than half their window space. The report notes that this analysis "isn’t conclusive since our sample size was relatively small, but the consistency of the results strongly suggests common patterns of tenant behavior."

So why aren't those who've shelled out what's presumably serious dough for views taking advantage? Lack of privacy, for one. The Standard Hotel's expansive windows allow pedestrians walking below to see into one of the hotel's restrooms, and developers of other glassy buildings near the popular High Line park have struggled to figure out a way to give residents views without letting tourists peek in.

There's also comfort. Depending on the type of glazing used on the glass, sky-high windows can become unbearably hot as the sun beats down during the summer, and they can leach warmth in the winter.

As the Urban Green Council notes, this is a design issue as much as it is about people being unprepared to live in glass boxes, and it's something to take into account before breaking ground on the next shiny new building. Lovely as natural light may be, no one wants to hang out in a building that feels like a terrarium under a heat lamp.

[Image: Financial district NYC via Shutterstock]

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  • If only someone would invent a glass that doesn't use electricity, blocks 90+ % of the suns heat and somehow intuitively would tint when the sun was shining and was clear when it was dark or cloudy... Oh wait, someone DID! It's green, it's passive and it's available.

  • Michael W. Perry

    There's another factor. As much as people may say that they value views, in reality they tend to focus on the world much closer in, typically that of family and work colleagues in the same room.

    When I lived in Seattle, I often did inside security at the Olympic Sculpture Park's award-winning pavilion. Those holding meetings, parties and weddings there were paying premium for the view, a sweeping 120-degree panorama of Puget Sound and the Olympic mountains. Yet I noticed that the guests rarely looked out the huge windows. They were far more interested in the person in front of them.

    And yes, sunlight is an issue too. Despite its awards, that pavilion wasn't very well oriented to the sun or the view. On sunny July and August days, the air-conditioning could keep up with the heat pouring in, making the place a greenhouse. And for half the length of that building, that marvelous view was blocked by utility rooms such as coat check.

    --Michael W. Perry, Across Asia on a Bicycle

  • scrypps

    I think it should also be noted that very often few occupy their apartment. It's quite common for a person to "need" an apartment in NY but make their true home in Long Island or CT. Also anyone who steps out would be foolish not to roll down the blinds because often the plush interiors are better preserved without UV rays constantly hitting them.