I still remember reading about the first cases of Legionnaires' disease more than 20 years ago. The disease, which causes pneumonia-like symptoms, gets its name from an outbreak that struck an American Legion convention at a Philadelphia hotel back in 1976. It made headlines all over the world after more than 200 became sick and 29 died. After an extensive investigation, researchers determined the illness was caused by bacteria that grows in water, such as in air-conditioning ducts. Apparently the bacteria were blown into hotel rooms through the air-conditioning system. Ever since that outbreak I've been somewhat reluctant to stay in hotels where I can't open the windows and let fresh air into my room. While my fears may be unfounded, having an open window would just make me feel better. It's as simple as that.
I'm not alone with this obsession. As I found out by reading a recent story in the Wall Street Journal, others find something irksome about building owners who have made the determination that windows in their facilities can't be opened. It just doesn't seem very customer-friendly to me. The Journal story, headlined "Windows That Open Are the Latest Office Amenity," presented some information that convinces me that it's just not right to be in any building where you can't open the windows. One prominent architect quoted in the article, William McDonough, backs me up. Among his credits, he designed the Gap headquarters in San Bruno, Calif., and Herman Miller's offices in Zeeland, Mich. Both have operable windows for their inhabitants. First of all, he believes that concerns about open windows and bad weather are way overblown. "The problem is that the engineering and design community treat people as if they're stupid and brain dead," he says in the article. "As if they are going to open a window when it's 95 degrees outside and muggy, and it's 72 degrees and air-conditioned inside."
But when it comes to operable windows, that's exactly the way people have been treated for many years now. Back in the '40s and '50s, most office workers could open their windows. But that all changed when central air-conditioning came into being. According to the Journal, by the end of the '60s most operable windows had disappeared. Consequently, office workers were virtually hermetically sealed in their buildings, and that's the way it has stayed until recently. But that just isn't the American way. All of us deserve some measure of control over our environment. Being able to open the windows shouldn't be such a controversial matter.
Of course there are always two sides to any story. I can understand why engineers would want to eliminate operable windows. They have to worry about the expensive inefficiency of operating an air-conditioning system when a number of windows are open in the building. And then there are nuisances like bugs and dust. But these concerns seem to be diminishing, according to the Journal article. For instance, at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, plans are in the works to build a 125,000-square-foot facility with operable windows. The building would have a system with switches on each window that would automatically shut off local air-conditioning when the window is open.
There's also another aspect to this subject-making sure some individuals don't take flying leaps out of their windows. A new generation of windows designed for office buildings addresses this worry. Some are hinged at the top and open on a sliding track about six inches long. But that's enough room to let the fresh air in, which is all I ask.
Now we can smell the roses,
Charles S. Lauer