The Pluses and Minuses of Vinyl

vinyl mcmansion photo

The low cost of vinyl windows helped make McMansions possible

In March, 2005 John Laumer wrote a defense of vinyl windows: Look Out Any Window; in March , 2006 I suggested that he was wrong in A Year Ago in TreeHugger: A Defence of Vinyl. In March, 2007 I ate some of my words in Vinyl Windows: John was Right and I was Wrong. I Think. after the US Green Building Council concluded that they really were not that much worse than any other kind of windows. In the two years since, I have concluded that they are evil, not only because of their manufacture and the disposal issues but because they are butt ugly and ruin buildings.

But this time I leave the issue in the capable hands of one of the best design writers around, Alice Rawsthorn of the International Herald Tribune, who turns her eye toward vinyl windows and finds them lacking.

vinyl-interior window image

What are the architectural icons of our time? Which buildings - or bits of buildings - will be the contemporary equivalents of Gothic cathedrals with flying buttresses, Palladian porticos or the flashy facades of Art Deco cinemas?

Will it be the surreal shapes of digitally designed structures like Herzog & de Meuron's Olympic Stadium and Rem Koolhaas's China Central Television headquarters in Beijing? Or a visionary eco-home? Almost certainly is the answer to the first question, and let's hope so to the second. But if we were to assess the candidates in terms of quantity, rather than design quality, a strong contender would be what is probably the commonest architectural feature of the early 21st century - the plastic window frame.

They are everywhere now. Houses are one thing though; in Europe they are finding their way into restorations and commercial structures.

vinyl windows russia photo

Vinyl windows on constructivist classic Bakhmetevsky Bus Garage in Moscow
They even appear on architectural landmarks. Take the Bakhmetevsky Bus Garage in Moscow, which was designed in 1926 by the great Soviet architect, Konstantin Melnikhov. After being neglected for decades, the building was restored before reopening last year to house the Garage Center for Contemporary Culture, a nonprofit art gallery run by the Russian socialite Dasha Zhukova and her oligarch boyfriend, Roman Abramovich. As the original windows were broken, new ones were installed in the same geometric style as Melnikhov's originals, but in a different material - plastic.

Rawsthorn compares them to the ubiquitous plastic chairs that are doomed to fill dumps for years to come. A must-read for everyone before the window salesman comes promising spurious energy savings and tax breaks. The pluses and minuses of ubiquitous plastic
More on vinyl windows:
Spend your Weatherization Money Wisely
Noooo Edinburgh, Don't Lift Ban on Changing Windows in Historic Structures
Building the Green Modern Home: Looking at Windows
Look Out Any Window
A Year Ago in TreeHugger: A Defence of Vinyl
Vinyl Windows: John was Right and I was Wrong. I Think.

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