Bay window - bow window

From Hull AWE
Jump to: navigation, search

Don't confuse a bay window with a bow window - particularly if you are studying architecture, or any related subject, such as building conservation, archaeology or town planning. (The word bow is interesting enough in itself to students of language - AWE has articles on it at [[ Bow (meaning)]] and the links therein. Both Bay window and bow window are architectural terms, and should be used with the appropriate precision. They are often confused - which is not surprising as bow windows form a sub-set of bay windows.

  • A bay window is a projection outwards (very occasionally inwards) from a room in a house which is glazed. It is designed to maximize the daylight falling into the room.
    • The commonest type is rectangular, forming (in plan) a regular rectangle.
    • If the plan view is polygonal (e.g. the corners of the rectangle are cut across by diagonals), the construction is known as a canted bay window.
    • If the plan is curved, either regularly curved or an approximation to a regular curve formed of straight-line segments, the structure is called a bow window (pronounced to rhyme with 'so' and 'know'), or, more archaically, a 'compass window', after the compasses used by builders to lay it out. Bow windows were commonly built in eighteenth and nineteenth century shops to display their wares.
A bow window is therefore only a type of bay window. Do not confuse the terms:
if in doubt, use bay window as the more general term.
      • A bay window that does not go down to the ground, but instead is supported on corbels or brackets built out from the story below is called an Oriel window, or just an oriel. It may project from one or more of the upper storeys; the necessary thing is that it is clear of the ground floor.
It is perhaps of etymological interest that Oriel College, a constituent college of the University of Oxford, takes its name from the architectural feature, rather than the other way round. OED says: "Founded as 'the House of Blessed Mary' in 1326, Oriel College, Oxford, derives its current name from a messuage [dwelling house] formerly known as Seneschal Hall, but called, from the reign of Henry III, La (or Le) Oriole ... probably after a balcony forming part of the building. Following the college's foundation, the hall was occupied by the provost and fellows, the society being consequently known as 'of the Oriole' ... The placing of an oriel window in the college's new tower during the 1620s has caused some later confusion as to the origin of the college name."
You may also want to see AWE's pages on bow (meaning) and bay (meaning).