Not nearly as complex an architectural typology as the word suggests, a “clerestory” is a simple – if lexically loose – a portmanteau of “clear” and “story”. It is denoting a section of the wall that contains windows or cavities above eye level. 

Today, religious structures are often typified by the light their high windows allow to stream in, both figuratively and literally, from a higher source. As an architectural feature, however, clerestory windows are found in many projects of all types and periods. Due to this control of natural light, along with natural warming, ventilation and many more effects, clerestory windows are an important part of contemporary low-energy buildings and are becoming ever more popular in modern projects. 

Natural lighting effects 


The CABQ International District Library in Albuquerque, USA. Image credit: Patrick Coulie

Replacing walls with transparent windows is an easy way of bringing more light into an interior, but there is also a reduction in privacy. A great advantage of clerestory windows, however, is that by staying high up on the wall, outdoor sightlines are reduced. 

By applying a sawtooth roof to the CABQ International District Library in Albuquerque, United States of America (USA), RMKM Architecture has been able to add “north-facing clerestory windows for glare-free natural light and sky views twelve months per year,” as the architects explain, in addition to south-facing photovoltaic (PV) panels. 

Winter warmth 


The CAMPout project, Lake Tahoe, USA. Image credit: Joe Fletcher

“A set of clerestory windows cap the ends of the gable roof, framing a Turrell-esque sky view,” explain architects at Sonelo Design Studio about the Gable Clerestory House in Melbourne, Australia. They were referencing the American natural light artist, James Turrell, whose work uses architecture to form naked-eye observatories that frame the sky. 

Additionally, being higher up on the wall, the clerestory gable window extends daylight hours and “heats the space with warm winter sun during the colder months”. 

At the Rescobie Pavilion in Rescobie, United Kingdom (UK), a “mono-pitch roof brings low autumn and winter sun into the space through clerestory glazing,” share the architects at Kris Grant Architect, “while a deep overhang provides shade in the summer months.” 


Passive ventilation 

When open, clerestory windows use their height to suck warm air up and out of the interior, replacing it with cooler air from below. Directing the natural airflow into, through and out of a building, using efficient passive cooling and ventilation techniques such as clerestory windows, is an important part of modern low-energy buildings. 

At the Narbo Via Museum in Narbonne, France, inspired by Roman technology, Foster + Partners combines clerestory windows with a “subterranean void that pushes cool air out at a low level,” as the architects describe, “and high ceilings which create a thermal flywheel effect, naturally pushing warm air upwards, from where it is exhausted.” 

Spatial advantages 

By freeing up the obstructions between second-storey clerestory windows and first-floor spaces, projects that use them can reap the rewards of higher ceilings. At the Sandi Simon Centre for Dance at Chapman University in Orange, USA, for example, the sawtooth roof allows several rows of clerestory windows to flood double-height communal areas inside the large building with light. 

An additional benefit, however, was that the “strategy amplifies the enormous trusses that hold up the building’s culturally and historically significant shell,” shares Lorcan O’Herlihy Architects. 

Fire-protective barrier 

Faulkner Architects correctly points out while describing work on the CAMPout project: “As climate change increases the incidence and magnitude of wildfire events and we continue to reach further into the wild landscape with development, we must enhance the construction systems and materials to withstand these disasters.” 

Located on a dense pine forest near Lake Tahoe, USA, the architects use thick concrete walls topped with steel sash-tempered clerestory windows to “form a fire-resistive barrier and secure a native cedar interior”, creating an environment that is responsive and considerate of its setting and local material palette.  

More than just a feature for religious structures, the clerestory window offers many advantages for contemporary low-energy buildings. 

 Full acknowledgement and thanks go to:

www.archdaily.com for the information in this article. 

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