Attention and interest for windows, including panoramic models, have always been central in architects' and designers' work. Perhaps this is truer than ever today, given the need for energy-saving strategies. The topicality of eco-friendly building has not only fuelled greater quality in construction but is also prompting new ways of approaching architecture, which are less bound to customary methods and are capable of speaking a different, innovative architectural language. Besides providing the opportunity to better exploit spaces such as balconies, terraces and patios even during the winter months or on rainy days, panoramic windows help save energy, thanks to the protection given by the glass itself (now a versatile and super-efficient material) and the scope to bring natural lighting into interior spaces. In addition, expanses of glazing can often be combined with other solutions to achieve nearly zero energy buildings (NZEBs) ‒ edifices with excellent energy performance where the extremely low or inexistent demand for resources is covered almost completely from renewable sources.
The good news for designers operating in Italy is that a great deal of simplification has been introduced in terms of regulations. One of the most far-reaching is Law No. 142 of 21 September 2022, which converts Legislative Decree No. 115/2022 (known as the Aiuti Bis ‒ 'public aid' ‒ law). This allows removable and fully transparent panoramic windows to be fitted in residential spaces without specific planning permission. The regulation came into force on 22 September 2022 and supplements Article 6 of Presidential Decree No. 380/2001 'Testo Unico Edilizia' on lesser-regulated construction and building works.
This measure is very important since it deregulates and simplifies the installation of glazing elements in buildings, but above all it comes at a crucial time, given the quest for solutions to increase eco-sustainability and energy savings in public and private edifices.
Here we list the conditions that must be satisfied for a window to be classified as a 'removable and transparent panoramic window' (VEPA in the Italian regulations), we look at possible limitations in the case of installation in a condominium context, and we provide a selection of project examples where a glass façade is paired with other solutions (solar or photovoltaic panels, geothermal probes) to reduce the environmental impact of the building.
ANCE (the Italian national association of construction companies) has published a useful overview of the new simplified measure, where a panoramic window is defined as 'removable' if it can temporarily perform the functions of: protection from weather conditions, improving sound and energy performance, reducing heat loss, and partial sealing against rainwater penetration.
The document also specifies that this type of window is pertinent to balconies protruding from the body of the edifice or to loggias recessed in the edifice, and points out that the national building regulations define:
Therefore, the term balcony includes not only usable cantilever elements with a roof but also those without roofing. Regarding the latter, a possible glazing solution to horizontally cover the top of the space needs to be identified.
In the case of apartment blocks, there could be restrictions or certain conditions due to the individual condominium rules. Apart from the ones adopted most recently and perhaps containing specific instructions for panoramic windows, a general check should nevertheless be made on whether these rules set particular limitations for condo inhabitants altering the building elevations in any way (for instance, some regulations include instructions on fitting sun blinds or on the shape and colour of security bars).
If specific rules are absent and since these works themselves are not detrimental to the architectural context, Article 1122 of the Civil Code ‒ setting out that prior notification must be given to the condominium administrator ‒ is not considered applicable. Nonetheless, sending notification might be advisable in any case, to allay any objection that might be raised, although specific authorisation is not required.
A construction conceived as a window overlooking the central garden: this is Moreau Kusunoki's design for the main pavilion of the Parisian Political Sciences Institute (Sciences Po), which has renovated its urban campus while also respecting its surrounding historical context. In fact, the institute is located among other cultural, teaching and political facilities, creating a modern urban campus where its individual blocks are connected by three courtyards (Cours Gribeauval, Sébastopol and Teuille de Beaulieu): what stands out are architecture and vegetation.
In this case, glass façades have been opted for to pair aesthetics with energy efficiency, particularly for the underground library ‒ a space that fully draws on natural lighting.
A series of transition spaces marks out Studio Apostoli's new design: a home with three storeys above ground circled by a generous garden and perfectly melded with the surrounding landscape. In this case, the glass curtain walls underscore the close connection between inside and outside, offering a dual visual of the settings: the double-height window that showcases the broad internal staircase in fact provides viewing of the zen garden fitted between the various volumes. Inversely, from the outside and with the windows open, or with the lights on at night, the interior spaces become an extension of the garden.
Yet the glass expanses are not merely the designers' aesthetic whim, since they are combined with other solutions to reach a performance to qualify the home as a nearly zero energy building (NZEB).
A residential building heated from five geothermal probes with an almost all-glazed penthouse flat. These are the key words to describe Mistral, the new project in Lugano by the Nicola Probst Architetti studio. The result is a quality eco-friendly response that respects the surrounding environment and draws on geothermal and solar heat to shape a design that artfully builds on urban densification, using unusual forms and creating apartments of various sizes.
In this example too, the many expanses of glass blend perfectly into the design concept, which is entirely oriented to sustainability in all its forms: the use of renewable sources, energy efficiency, and attention to environmental, economic and social issues. The edifice is in fact heated by a heat pump with five geothermal probes sunk up to 160 metres into the ground to take advantage of the subsoil heat. In addition, the heat pump can be reversed to provide summer cooling, without having to use traditional air conditioning. The geothermal system is integrated with a 12kW photovoltaic system installed on the roof: the photovoltaic panels and the geothermal system bring the building self-sufficiency in energy.
Riviera 107, a residential building designed by Giovanni Vaccarini on the Pescara seafront, could be seen as an urban version of a local trabocco ‒ the traditional timber fishing huts on stilts dotting the coast in Abruzzo. The edifice has an irregular façade, with each level set back a different distance from the street front, to create a system of large cantilevered balconies. The east-facing façade, which is fully glazed, has been conceived as an open section that visually connects the interior spaces with the Adriatic coast. This idea ‒ the result of Vaccarini’s many years of investigating surface depth ‒ is the interpretation key used by the architect to reimagine the typical design of Adriatic apartment blocks, reworking the relationship between the interiors, the landscape and public spaces.
Crowned by a rooftop garden, the residential building was designed to the principles of bio-architecture and eco-compatibility, and here too the glass expanses are integrated with other energy-efficient solutions. The edifice was in fact built using FSC-certified timber, and lifecycle-assessed materials and finishes that are recyclable, renewable and, wherever possible, locally sourced. The building envelope was also designed to satisfy different criteria depending on the exposure of each side. The south and north walls – the former more subject to the heat of the summer sun and the latter to cold winter winds – have smaller window openings, while the east façade, facing the street, is fully glazed and protected from direct sunlight by the cantilevered balconies.
Please refer to the individual links as indicated in the article above to look through the project's credits