Patterns of an old world

21 08 2012

In a world that is changing too fast, it is always nice to discover reminders of a time we have left behind and a time we may long have forgotten. I very recently stumbled on one, a world of Peranakan tiles, bamboo chicks and coloured frosted glass …

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Windows 1.0

7 11 2010

One of the simple things that I love is how light streams through the frosted or textured panes of an old window, casting a soft and somewhat surreal glow on the space it is meant to provide light to. For me, being bathed in that soft glow, often tinged with a green coloured tint the glass is given somehow brings with it a sense of calm, a calm that exudes a surprising coolness that allows one to take refuge from the warm and oppressive heat that lies beyond the translucent panes. It is for me a light so beautiful that it always draws me to the space that it illuminates – a light that somehow we have in our quest to erect the new edifices of glass and steel, we have long forgotten about.

Soft light streaming into a room of a building that was designed in the mid 1900s.

I guess many of these windows came from a time when necessity dictated that windows would provide light necessary to illuminate a space in the day, serving as a means to ventilate as well as keep out the heat and glare of the tropical sun. Most would have been frosted or textured to provide for the latter consideration as well as for privacy – something that perhaps is achieved for practical reasons with adornments to windows such as the blinds that are commonplace with the windows of today.

Soft light streaming from textured windows of a shophouse from the 1930s in Wan Chai, Hong Kong.

The frosted or textured panes of glass, sometimes coloured, sometimes not, always succeeds in evoking a sense of nostalgia in me, a nostalgia for a time when I sat in the warm glow of the green frosted and textured windows of the primary school that I attended. It was a time for me when there was much to discover through the eyes of a child with the wonderment of world at his feet, and when many of the friendships made have lasted through the half a lifetime that has since passed. I guess those were the formative years that made me the person I am today, and gave me the eyes with which I now look at the world through.

Green coloured frosted glass adds a cool and calm to the light that filters through them.

The green coloured versions somehow casts a tranquility that envelops the space, something that is very much in evidence in the grand old Supreme Court building. It is in providing Singapore with a masterpiece of his architectural genius, that Frank Dorrigton Ward, makes wonderful use of frosted as well as clear glass windows and skylights, that makes it unnecessary to use artificial lighting during the day. What is simply brilliant about the work is that the soft light that filters through, bathes the internal spaces such as the Rotunda Library, the Courtrooms, Judges’ Chambers and passageways with a glow that speaks of a calm that only seeing can describe. This was something that I was fortunate enough to savour on a few visits to the grand old building before work begins to transform it into the National Gallery of Art. It is certainly comforting to know that once the transformation is complete, we will still see much of the magnificent light that it is now bathed in, comforting in the sense that there is still a place to which I can go to feel the glow that only those wonderful windows of old can bring.

Soft light on the main staircase of the old Supreme Court.

Another view of the staircase of the old Supreme Court.

Soft light entering the former Chief Justice's Office in the old Supreme Court.

The soft light of the Rotunda Library.

The old Supreme Court features strategically placed skylights and windows that allow filtered natural light to illuminate its corridors and chambers.

Even the lobby of the prisoner holding area is bathed in a wonderful soft light that streams in through the windows.

A coloured frosted window in the old Supreme Court.

Coloured frosted windows of the old Supreme Court.

A window to a light well in the old Supreme Court.

Soft light of a room illuminated by light filtered through the frosted glass panes of a window.

Textured and frosted glass is commonly used in older buildings of the pre-glass and steel days.

A close up of textured and frosted glass panes.

Timeless old world illumination reflected off the instrument of illumination of the new world.