Sound windows and windows generally actually

15.31, Friday 26 May 2023

Windows let in light… but…

I stayed at a hotel a few years ago which had a sound window.

It was the Juvet landscape hotel in Norway for a retreat about AI. (You may recognise the architecture – Ex Machina was shot there.)


I was lucky enough to stay in one of the seven wooden cabins. Each faces the woods and the river with floor to ceiling glass windows, artfully arranged to have no other cabins in view.

Next to the bed, where the bedside phone would be in a regular hotel, is a closed hatch in the wall. A small rectangle.

You slide open the plain wooden door. There’s a small ridge on the wall so you can’t see through it lying down, and no breeze reaches you, but it opens directly to the outdoors.

Which means, in the dark of night, you can listen to the forest and the water and the wind.

If the veil were thin, and a small hole tore open to the faerie world, the world next to this one, and you could hear through, that is what a sound window is like.

There’s something about putting your ear to the adjacent-but-unreachable which is compelling.

And this is part of the feeling behind ant farms and snow globes perhaps?

And also the feeling behind the magic of television? Which has eroded because we’ve become accustomed to the other world behind the OLEDs.

BTW: although the appeal of an ant farm is to be able to peer at this unreachable other world, wouldn’t it be cool to actually travel there?

Like: could we make ant-scale robots and teleoperate them with VR glasses, and go for walks around ant hills? Wouldn’t it be fun to cosplay an ant for a few hours?

Sound windows and telepresence!

If I were YouTube, I would lean into ambient live streams (I keep a window open to a waterhole in the Namib Desert, as previously discussed, and it is gorgeous). You could develop an amazing multiplayer experience around that.

(Hey and if you’re at YouTube, or you’re a brand and you want to do this - like the ambient sounds of a factory floor would be incredible, or an HD stream of the glacier where your water comes from - then get in touch and we’ll build it.)

But what makes for a good window anyhow?

I’m part of a small reading group going through A Pattern Language one pattern at a time. I had read a few patterns, and found them incredible useful in designing multiplayer software, but never the whole thing. We meet on Mondays and will finish all 253 sometime at the back end of 2027.

Yeah so we’ve been talking about windows recently.

This paper was cited in APL (pattern #192: Windows Overlooking Life): The Function of Windows – A reappraisal (1967). Full ref below.

The basis being that: Traditional criteria for window design relate to daylight and ventilation requirements. However it’s worth looking beyond that?

This grabbed me: that a window, on the retina, is visually dynamic and interactive.

Another criterion for successful window design might be a dynamic one – i.e. the amount of change in the view that takes place for a given change in the viewing position of the observer. As a result of this movement parallax not only do objects at a different distance within the view change their relative position but also the window-view relationship changes.

This is why two-dimensional artificial windows, even when very carefully contrived, are unrealistic and soon cease to satisfy; they lack ‘depth’ within the view and the parallax of window aperture-view is also absent. For small movements in a horizontal plane, such as occur when walking a few steps, a vertically orientated window with an axis at right angles to the plane of movement gives a maximum rate of change – a long horizontal window under the same conditions merely changes at its two extremities.

Which as an observation feels PROFOUND somehow!

A window is a continuously changing texture, like a television, but not because the outside view is changing (though it may) but because of parallax. This means that narrow windows are better than big ones.

Also it is responsive - when you move, the view moves! When you are still… it is still.

I hadn’t thought about windows like that. So active.


Markus, T. A. (1967). The function of windows – A reappraisal. Building Science, 2(2), 97-121.

I want to make an electronic sound window for my home office, but a window that looks into cyberspace or latent space, with this reactive parallax quality to it.

Yeah I don’t know what that means either. It’s kinda a brief to myself I guess, something to sketch around.

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