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Blurring the Lines with Blind Windows

In response to our recent post “A Sign That Tells More Than Just Street Names,” about the oddly ‘elevated’ street sign embedded above the third floor of 128 Charles Street, an Off the Grid reader also wondered about the rows of mysteriously “bricked up” windows along the Greenwich Street facade of the building.

An Off the Grid reader noticed, and asked about, the “bricked up” windows on the Greenwich Street side of 128 Charles Street.

Well, dear reader, your query opens the door to another fascinating quirk found in our built environment.  Or perhaps we should say it opens a window

In fact, not all “bricked up windows” are actually bricked up at all.  Many of them are ‘blind windows’ or ‘false windows’ — architectural elements consisting of window lintels, sills, and a brick indentation where an actual window looks like it might have gone, meant to mimic windows in order to maintain symmetry and balance on the facade of a building, but which were never actually real windows.

37 Bedford Street and detail.

These seem especially common on tenements, and there are what appear to be some wonderful examples in our tenement-rich neighborhoods of the South Village and East Village.

190 2nd Avenue (former home of the Cafe Royal — see http://gvshp.org/blog/2011/03/01/cafe-royal/), and detail.

Sometimes of course windows do get bricked up, and in some cases it can be quite obvious — the infill brick may be a different color or type than the rest of the building’s brick, the new brick is flush with the wall of the building but the outline of the original window remains, and sometimes the old window may be only partially bricked up.

Tenement at the northeast corner of 9th Street and Second Avenue, and detail of bricked up windows.

But what’s much trickier is when there is an entire row of neatly “bricked up” windows on a building, with the same lintels and sills as the other windows left in place, with the brick seemingly flawlessly matched with the building’s original brick (or purposefully contrasted) and indented at just the same place where the glass window would have gone, keeping the architectural rhythm of facade in place, rather than filling up the entire window, removing any depth and making it flush with the facade.  In these cases, the “bricked up” windows are often in fact blind or false windows, which cleverly bestow upon the facade of the building a balance and proportion it might have otherwise lacked.

Tenement at Carmine and Bleecker Streets, and detail.

Can you tell the difference?

One response to “Blurring the Lines with Blind Windows

  1. But why? Why are the windows false in the first place? Why are there not windows there?

    Was it a stairwell? Did it house a dumb waiter? Was it a chimney? Why not put windows where the intentional false windows are?

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