CDRC Confidential: Window, or Wall


“Its gonna look like a landing strip at LAX at night,” I said referring to the swath of glass the applicant was proposing to optimize his view. Fortunately, instead of the large glass pocket doors currently in vogue, his architect was using French doors to break up the “glazing,” as designers call it. I personally like my glazing on donuts and had never heard the word used to refer to glass until appointed to the CDRC. “Fenestration” was the other word I never heard until the CDRC advisory architect used it. I guessed it meant windows, recalling la fenetre was window in French. My own architect taught me the word “mullion,” and explained how view windows can be broken up by “mullions” without distracting the eye from appreciating the overall view (see photo below). I like to think it’s similar to the way the beauty of the stained-glass windows of Chartres are not diminished by their lines. It’s a nice solution applicants and their designers might want to “mull” over (couldn’t resist the pun).

With our general requirement of Latin inspiration under Protective Covenant (PC) Par. 157, it should go without saying that recessed windows are preferred. Lately, applicants want the large lift-and-slide glass doors. We’re talkin’ a 48 feet long by 11 feet high LARGE slab of glass, prominently placed to see their view. Clearly (sorry, I’m on a pun roll) glass creates two views: inside looking out and outside looking in. Reflection of sunlight from glass windows can blind neighbors across our canyons by day. By night, with improved lighting technology, these same large windows can shine intensely and annoy others, especially when automatic timers make it a nightly show. In interpreting and enforcing the PC, the CDRC, like glass, has two views: the individual applicant and the rest of the Members. Currently, the CDRC is revising Chapter 14 of the Regulations on Outdoor Lighting, where brightness and focus are being considered among other issues. Not only can Members attend these CDRC Review of the Regulatory Code meetings (warning: not the sexiest subject matter), but Members can comment on the revised regulations later on, following the Board revisions. After the CDRC has discussed lighting further, I promise to keep readers “RSF Posted” on this and our Dark Sky policy (perfect name given our “CDRC Confidential” column film noir theme).

The designers for these projects with the large lift and slides, say their clients will leave the doors open most of the time to prevent glare and use dim lights at night. Loyal readers recall my column last month about the abundance of wildlife here. If residents leave these glass doors open all day and night, they will have the opportunity to meet lots of trespassers of the furry/feathery/slithery kind (see photo of roadrunner who stopped by a friend’s home for lunch). That’s why on my house we built pocket screen doors for our French doors (see photo below). These pocket screens don’t obscure the view when unneeded. They provide cross ventilation in the summer without inviting that solo mosquito to play kamikaze by our ears when we’re trying to sleep. Lift and slides can have screens, too, but I imagine those who want them will keep the doors closed and simply crank up the AC. In winter glass sucks out the warmth of a room, while in summer the radiant heat of the sun bakes the interior. But the CDRC is not concerned about this. They are concerned about aesthetics and a harmonious design that won’t “depreciate neighboring property . . .” (Par. 153).

To address the issue of glare on neighboring property, their designers suggest large overhangs to recess the massive horizontal use of glass causing the problem. This is the solution often favored by the CDRC advisory architect. When done well, as I’ve seen him do on his own projects, the overhang can be a beautiful solution. Unfortunately, some other architects have not been as successful, designing what resembles a large gaping mouth. They have also been used so frequently, our hillsides are starting to look like a town of cave dwellers. (Cue Flintstones cartoon theme song: “In the town of Bedrock, they’re the modern Stone Age family!”).

In analyzing windows and where glass is used successfully, I looked at Philip Johnson’s Glass House, which I love. The entire home is 56 feet long, surrounded by landscaping hidden from the street using glass as walls. It is international style. Under the PC, our architectural heritage is Latin (Par. 157). So, Par. 159 says, “Material: Plaster, adobe or stucco exterior wall surfaces . . . or concrete, stone are . . . preferred.” Glass is not listed. When glass is used on such a such a massive scale, it’s neither window, nor door: It’s a wall, as Philip Johnson intended. This can look really cool. But it can also make the structure look less like a Covenant home and more like a commercial building to neighbors during the day . . . and night. “We’re now on our final approach, please buckle your safety belts.”

The statements made in this column are the opinions of the author and not those of the Rancho Santa Fe Association Covenant Design Review Committee.