Houseways: Windows/ Design, Construction and Safety

Over the last twenty years or so, the predominate style for living and bedroom windows is 2 or 3 panel, lift-out, sliding windows placed about 1 meter from the floor with the window either single pane or divided. Usually the window itself is rectangular (for example height of 110 cm and width of 120 cm) with an inset plastered/ painted arched niche or an arched fanlight above (for example with height of 45 cm, see note about arches below).

In the last few years, there is a greater mix of styles. While some houses continue to have arched windows, square windows, large picture windows and/ or an entire wall (one or more stories high) of windows are more common. In particular, rental houses often have floor to ceiling windows with sliding glass or French doors. Bay and bow windows are rare.

Most windows are reflective – either because the glass itself has been treated while being made or a thin reflective film was put on. This is done to cut cooling costs as it means less direct sunlight enters a room; it also means windows are difficult or impossible to see through during a sunny day but that is less important as most windows are completely covered with drapes/ curtains [see:  Houseways – Windows/ Sightlines]

Kitchen windows are usually smaller (for example, 1m x 80cm) and set above the sink. Bathroom windows are smaller still (for example 65cm x 50cm). Both have opaque glass and sometimes there is a small fan incorporated into the window space or the arched fan light. Both rooms might have 2-panel, lift-out sliding windows or hopper [the top of the window inclines inward]; awning [the bottom of the window inclines outward] is less common. (see below for examples)

Sometimes windows are incorporated into the front door frame: either as transom/ fan lights above the doors and/ or as thin windows on either side of the door. These windows are opaque, perhaps made of translucent glass blocks or colored with real stained glass or a plastic, press-on designs that looks like stained glass. (see above for example)

Window frames are metal, usually 3 to 5m wide and, as can be expected when fitting arched windows in metal frames into cement block buildings, there are often thin gaps which let in wind, sand and rain. As windows are often completely covered with curtains/ drapes, wind and sand is not that much of a problem, although drifts of sand appear on the floor during sandstorms. For rainstorms, some Dhofaris take the preventative option and nail plastic sheeting over windows; some simply move furniture and rugs away from the window and mop up the water.

Ground floor windows are usually barred to prevent opportunistic pilfering rather than pre-planned intent to harm and to keep track of inhabitants. There might be a perception that windows are barred to monitor females but if a female is going to have an illicit meeting, a man coming to her house or her leaving her house would be stupidly dangerous. There would be no possible justification for her being out of the house and several Gibali men have told me that they have the right to kill any man who is in their house at night.

Also, the control is in force for boys as well as girls, albeit with different consequences. I have heard of many cases of boys being given a curfew and if they come late, they have to sleep in the majlis or a relative’s house unless a sister can get a door or window open for them to sneak in.

To me, barred windows can seem at odds with the fact that doors are usually open during the day, and sometimes only locked to keep small children from leaving. I read this as a perception switch from what I call welcoming house when inhabitants are awake and moving (majlis and front door are often open) to fortress house when the inhabitants are sleeping and, while perhaps the majlis door is open, the door from the majlis to rest of the house, all house doors and all bedroom doors are locked.

To look at this issue another way, I have not seen doors with ‘peep-holes’ in them. If someone knocks, you open the door. If some of the research guys stop by unexpectedly and knock, if I ask, “Who’s there?” they will refuse to answer and pound on the door. The first time this happened I was very scared, but I had the presence of mind to run to the window to look at the place for parking. I saw a few cars and recognized one, so I answered the door and got a lot of comments about my rudeness. When I tried to explain that I was afraid, I was told there was nothing to be afraid of. In the same way, if I get a call on my phone from an unknown number, the research guys encourage me to answer. There is nothing to fear from another person who is in front of your house or on the phone, i.e. communicating with you while you are awake. The necessity of trusting yourself, being polite to guests and the implied, ever-present available backup of living in a house with over 30 people, means that having an open door or opening a door to a stranger is considered safe. The danger is what might happen when you are sleeping; when you and your family are not able to see/ assess a possible threat, hence, locked doors and barred windows.

A note on arches:

more common: flat arch / French arch, nested, ogee, “oriental,” lancet, segmental, trefoil (Gothic), Tudor. Some have a flat lintel with a relieving arch [in brick houses this would be a pattern created by bricks angled on the vertical; in Dhofari houses, the arch pattern is created by plaster- or tile-work, unrelated to structural support]; occasionally used: onion, Venetian

less common: art nouveau (non-symmetrical), draped, horseshoe (Syrian), inflexed, keyhole, parabolic; in general, window and door arches do not curve inwards, nor are the sides narrower than the maximum span (width of arch), i.e. the arch usually connects to the sides seamlessly, without a large differential of size.

Examples of kitchen windows – photos by myself or informants, used with permission

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Examples of bathroom windows – photos by myself

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Example of ground-floor barred window – photo by Onaiza Shaikh

barred window