Nowe okna w starych budynkach
Wrocław, ul. Niemcewicza

New windows in old buildings. Have we forgotten about aesthetics?

New windows in old buildings is a complex and difficult subject. Whether in listed buildings or in buildings that are not listed as listed buildings, but which are centuries old and therefore have valuable and original architecture – it is important to select windows that match the character of the building. The fact is that no one can forbid the owner of an old building that has not been declared a monument from installing the cheapest plastic windows in it. However, as can often be seen on the streets of Polish cities, they will not look good against the background of an aged façade. The façade of a building forms a coherent whole with the windows, and their presence in a given form results from the conscious action of the architect

Polish architecture suffers from the aesthetically unpleasant affliction of cluttering the window frames. While in newer buildings the window divisions are simpler and easier to replace with new ones that repeat the division of panes and colours, in older buildings these divisions are more sophisticated and complicated. As a result, townhouses or villas are often disfigured. The multitude of different windows disrupts the entire harmony and rhythm of the façade, and renovations combined with the replacement of the woodwork with a uniform one are unfortunately rare. This can be seen very well in the photographs we publish

Wrocław, Niemcewicza Street. Source: Wrocław – Building investments

Nowe okna w starych budynkach

And what do the regulations say? We asked Joanna Bielawska-Pałczyńska, director of the Office of the Municipal Conservator of Monuments in Poznań, about new windows in old buildings

The window joinery in historic tenements is an important element of the architectural composition of the façade. For this reason, the MKZ pays particular attention to the preservation of the original window woodwork, especially the oldest, most valuable and with rich woodcarving ornamentation. According to conservation principles, the woodwork in a historic building should be preserved and restored. If it is necessary to replace its damaged parts, the new elements should be modelled on the original ones, maintaining the material, colour and dimensions, and repeating the divisions and profiles. Consent for the preservation and conservation or possible replacement of windows, must be obtained from the owner of any property that is under conservation protection. It is necessary to provide an inventory of the original windows. It is important that this is reliable and detailed.
The overall replacement of woodwork in a building is another matter. When it has a single owner, the matter is simpler:
In the case of general renovations of townhouses owned by a single owner, the MKZ places particular emphasis on replacing the joinery throughout the building – with the windows in the best condition, as so-called ‘witnesses to history’, being preserved and conserved – so that the integrity of the façade as a whole is maintained, particularly after the renovation of the façade. When replacing the joinery throughout the building, it is possible to return to the original colour scheme of the building. This is the way to proceed both for objects listed individually in the register of historic buildings and those under conservation protection on the basis of an area entry or in the communal register of historic buildings ,” explains Joanna Bielawska-Pałczyńska.
Poznań, Szamarzewskiego Street – one example of inconsistent joinery

However,when a property belongs to more than one person, complications arise

It is then very rare for windows to be replaced at the same time. It happens that new windows are created on the basis of designs made by different authors over the years, but above all, the windows can be realised by different contractors, which MKZ cannot impose on the investor. There is also often arbitrariness on the part of owners or tenants. In such a situation, we take advantage of the possibilities offered by the Law on the Protection and Care of Monuments. However, reacting in good time and tracking down the person responsible for illegal window replacement is not always possible. Sometimes we become aware of window replacements after the fact, during an inspection. We are then unable to find out who replaced the windows and when. In such a situation, when we do not have any grounds for indicating the person responsible (whether it was the current or previous owner), we usually issue post-inspection recommendations indicating that in the case of subsequent replacement of the windows, they should be replaced along the lines of the original windows, in accordance with the principles of historic building conservation and after obtaining a permit from the conservator,adds Joanna Bielawska-Pałczyńska.

It should be remembered that the replacement of such a window, without an assessment of its legitimacy and an assessment of its state of preservation made by the relevant authorities, may be treated as the destruction of part of the historic substance and damage to the historic building, which is subject to criminal law

While historic architecture is protected by regulations and saved from such arbitrariness, old buildings that are not on the register are at the mercy of the owners. The new joinery should not disturb the style of the building and should resemble that originally installed in the building, i.e. duplicate the pre-existing shapes, size of openings, maintain the original colours and divisions of the glass panes. Unfortunately, the reality shows otherwise. More often than not, it is the lack ofa sense of aesthetics, architectural awareness and financial considerations that lead to the widespread tarnishing of Polish streets. Financial resources in particular are a major problem. Homeowners often choose the cheapest solutions, the aesthetics of which leave much to be desired. This is particularly evident in tenement and other multi-family buildings. Perhaps the solution to the problem would be a mandatory renovation fund from which window replacement would be financed? For the time being, the problem exists, and Poland still has lessons to learn in this regard


Photos from Wrocław: Wrocław – Construction investments

See also: Architecture | Facade | Tenement | Historic building | Interesting facts

Topic: New windows in old buildings. Have we forgotten about aesthetics?

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