Oriel Windows?!? What is this Jargon!?!?!

This week, we return to one of my favorite things: architectural jargon!

While you may think of it as useless architectural history, I promise you that it will come in handy someday during a trivia Tuesday.

Trust me.

Someday, someone will be impressed with your knowledge of oriel windows.

So, what are they exactly? My handy-dandy Guide to Vermont Architecture uses the following definition:

“Multi-sided window that projects from the wall of a building, and whose base does not reach the ground.”

If the window starts on the first floor then you can call it a “bay” window; bay windows can be more than one story in height much like oriel windows.

Another definition comes from Thought Co.:

“An oriel window is a set of windows, arranged together in a bay, that protrudes from the face of a building on an upper floor and is braced underneath by a bracket or corbel.”

Here’s a definition of oriel windows from John Britton’s, A Dictionary of the Architecture and Archaeology of the Middle Ages: Including Words Used by Ancient and Modern Authors in Treating of Architectural and other Antiquities: With Etymology, Definition, Description, and Historical Elucidation: Also, Biographical Notices of Ancient Architects, which was printed in 1838:

Oriel Windows Definition
Oriel Windows Definition 2nd Page

So, where’d the idea of these windows come from you’re probably wondering!

Well, oriel windows most likely originated in the Middle Ages, not just in Europe but also in the Middles East.

In Europe, it may have developed from the word for porch or gallery, “oriolum,” which is medieval Latin. As you can see there’s a connection between the words, “oriel” and “oriolum.” Merriam Webster’s dictionary points to the first known usage of the word in the 14th century while the Encyclopedia Britannica says “oriel” became “prevalent” in the 15th century and were often placed over gateways or entrances to manor houses and public buildings.

So why would you want an oriel window- besides using it to spy on who’s coming to the manor for dinner tonight? It also allowed more light into a room and expanded the flood plan. The window style also offered a way for air ventilation and keeping a room cooler, which would have been ideal in the Middle East. In the Middle East, this style of window first appeared in 12th century Baghdad during the Abbasid Period. The window was called, mashrabiya, and were known for their ornamental lattice screens. In the Middle Eastern architecture, they were typically found on the side of the buildings and/or on the courtyard side of a house. Through the ages, the mashrabiya often would be designed based on the current architectural styles of the time, for example during the 1920’s and 1930’s, the mashrabiya lattice work was inspired by the Art Noveau and Art Deco styles.

Here in the United States, oriel windows can be found on a variety of buildings with different architectural styles, such as: Tudor Revival, Gothic Revival, and Queen Anne.

In another exciting book found on Google Books, here’s instructions on how you would have constructed an oriel window in the 1840’s as detailed by Alfred Bartholomew in Specifications for Practical Architecture, Preceded by an Essay on the Decline of Excellence in the Structure and in the Science of Modern English Buildings; With the Proposal of Remedies for those Defects:

Constructing Oriel Windows
Constructing Oriel Windows 2nd Page

*I am not making up these titles of these books that I found on Google Books*

Oriel Window
This is the Arlington. It was originally a hotel in downtown Potsdam, NY. It’s now a mixed-use building with businesses on the first floor and apartments on the second and third floors. In addition to that awesome information, it has a wonderful oriel window that extends two floors.
Up Close and Personal
Close-up view of the Arlington’s oriel window.
Chinatown Architecture
Oriel windows seen in San Francisco’s Chinatown.
Oriel Windows of San Francisco
These triple-decker oriel windows can be found in San Francisco. Where exactly you’re probably wondering…I have no idea, I think they’re somewhere near the Palace of Fine Arts.
Oriel Windows of San Francisco
A collection of oriel windows with major Art Deco vibes. These are somewhere in San Francisco……no idea where though. Sadly, when I’m walking around cities taking photos of fun buildings I’m not always documenting the exact location.
Oriel Windows of San Francisco
This oriel window is also in San Francisco. The place is just filled of oriel windows. Good news is I know where this is located: 100 Carl St, San Francisco, CA 94117 (about a block away from the south-east corner of the Golden Gate Park).
Bay Window in Ogdensburg, NY
Plot twist, this isn’t an oriel window but a bay window! This house is located in Ogdensburg, NY (located next to the Post Office). Please, someone buy it and make it look beautiful again.

Resources and Further Information

Alfred Bartholomew, Specifications for Practical Architecture, Preceded by an Essay on the Decline of Excellence in the Structure and in the Science of Modern English Buildings; With the Proposal of Remedies for those Defects, (London: Gilbert and Rivington, Printers, St. John’s Square, 1840) 4691. https://books.google.com/books?id=82UkAAAAMAAJ&pg=PA80&dq=oriel+window&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwiZ1p-zocPgAhVrrlQKHThgBWU4ChDoAQhcMAk#v=onepage&q=oriel%20window&f=false

John Britton, A Dictionary of the Architecture and Archaeology of the Middle Ages: Including Words Used by Ancient and Modern Authors in Treating of Architectural and other Antiquities: With Etymology, Definition, Description, and Historical Elucidation: Also, Biographical Notices of Ancient Architects (London: Printed by James Moyes, Castle Street, 1838) 337- 338. https://books.google.com/books?id=j2AJAAAAIAAJ&pg=PT18&dq=oriel+window&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwiUv_KcocPgAhVDMnwKHbacDUoQ6AEIWjAJ#v=onepage&q=oriel%20window&f=false

(Let’s talk about Google Books. They’re amazing. You can read previews of many newer books but can also find the full text for many older books and periodicals, which can be fantastic when researching quirky architectural history topics.)

Jackie Craven, “The Oriel Window- An Architectural Solution, Look for the Bracket on the Bottom,” Thought Co, July 5, 2017: https://www.thoughtco.com/what-is-an-oriel-window-177517

Curtis B. Johnson, editor and Elsa Gilbertson, Principal Author, The Historical Architecture of Vermont: Guide to Vermont Architecture (The Vermont Division for Historic Preservation, 1996) 27.

Stephanie Przybylek, “Oriel Windows: Definition & Style”, Study.com, https://study.com/academy/lesson/oriel-windows-definition-style.html

Random Definitions-

Encyclopedia Brittanica, Definition for Oriel Window: https://www.britannica.com/technology/oriel

Meeriam-Webster Dictionary Definition for Oriel Window: https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/oriel%20window

Buffalo Architecture and History, Illustrated Architecture Dictionary: Oriel Window: https://buffaloah.com/a/DCTNRY/o/oriel.html

Wikipedia’s Pages on the Oriel Window and the Mashrabiya:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mashrabiya

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oriel_window

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