Window Architecture Styles

Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

Windows are a very important element of a structure, both in terms of design and function. In this lesson, we'll look at some common styles of windows and see what defines each one.


They say that the eyes are the windows to the soul. In this way, it could be said that windows are the eyes of a house. However you choose to define them, windows are an integral architectural element that contributes to both the aesthetic and livability of a structure. So, it's important to select the right styles of windows. After all, we learn a lot about people and buildings by their eyes.

Historic Styles

There are literally as many styles of windows as there are architectural styles, but let's look over some common ones you're likely to run into throughout your travels. We'll start with some popular historic styles that are still frequently found today.

Colonial Windows

In the United States, colonial and colonial revival architecture is pretty popular, especially on the East Coast. Colonial architecture was largely defined by Italian Renaissance ideas about symmetry and proportions, filtered through England. Colonial-style windows share this emphasis. They are generally multi-pane windows, divided into consistent geometric squares or rectangles that provide a sense of mathematical harmony. They are also defined by the use of thin shutters on each side that reflect the ideas of perfect proportions, and are aligned symmetrical across the façade of the house.

Colonial Revival windows

Palladian Windows

Closely related to the colonial styles is the Palladian window, also derived from the Italian Renaissance. In this case, the style is directly based on the works of Andrea Palladio, the master of Renaissance symmetry and domestic architecture. Palladian windows consist of three sections: a central, arched window flanked on each side by a narrow rectangular section. Again, it is based in the symmetrical and geometric aesthetics of the Italian Renaissance, and has found its way into many architectural styles.

A Palladian window

Victorian Windows

In the Victorian era of the 19th century, architecture went through a new period of innovation and required new kinds of windows. Two of the most popular styles from this time period were the bay and bow windows. These are defined by the use of multiple tall, rectangular panes set at angles to produce a curve in the façade. A bay window uses three large panes, a bow window uses four. Large plate glass was a major innovation of the Victorian era, and so these windows do not require multiple small panes to make up each section of the window, like the colonial styles do.

Bay and bow windows were popular in the Victorian era

Gothic Revival

The last of the famous historic windows we'll cover is the Gothic Revival. Gothic windows are very easy to spot and are defined by the pointed arch, created by combining two smaller pointed arches with a smaller top panel. They will often be trimmed with ornate curved designs in the cornice (the decorative molding) for extra flair. The Gothic window became very popular in the United States for a while, and in fact is the famous Grant Wood painting American Gothic is so named for the presence of this style of window in the background.

American Gothic

Modern Styles of Windows

Many of the historic window styles have remained popular and been worked into modern architectural designs, so you can expect to see them around fairly frequently. However, there are also some other designs that are strictly products of the modern era.

The Picture Window

For a long time, glass was fragile and could only be installed in small panels. One hallmark of many modern structures is the use of large single panels that have only been possible to create with modern technology. The clearest use of this is the picture window, a massive window that does not open. Picture windows are often the size, or nearly the size, of an entire wall and provided optimum amounts of natural lighting. Modern ones are made from single panes of glass with so that nothing obstructs the view through them. The name derives from the fact that they appear to frame a view sort of like a master oil painting in a gallery.

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