Capiz Windows or Lameperong or Saleras or Windowpane oyster is the most common type of window material used in the Philippines between the years of 1755-1960.When we see most ancestral houses anywhere in the Philippines from Luzon to Mindanao we see Capiz being used as windows and sometimes even being made into furniture. Today we just accept that these windows are a staple of Philippine architecture being featured in most ancestral and heritage houses. Today we will discover their history and why they are so common until today.
Capiz windows or Windowpane oyster has been used for thousands of years as a cheap and easily available glass substitute. The species of oyster the capiz shell comes from is from the species Placuna Placenta which is common all around the world, excluding the Americas. The lightweight and ease of shaping them is what made them a attractive alternative to glass and other means of making windows. Tracing back records in books and documents the first mentions of Capiz shells or Capiz windows were around the 16th-17th century when Spanish architects noted them for their ability to let light through without having to open the window. Their use continued in the 17th to 20th century in most buildings built in the Philippines, Most houses if not using glass or solid wood windows were using Capiz. The few places where you could find glass was in Churches in the form of stained glass like the stained glass in the San Sebastian Cathedral.
Capiz windows come usually come in two forms, the very common sliding window and the less common fixed window. The sliding capiz window is just that a window that you can slide to the side of the wall to expose the room to the outside. The fixed Capiz window is less common and more decorative in the sense that sometimes it is used to easily let light pass through a room. Capiz windows were very much a middle-high class item during the Spanish and American colonization. Only the poor would use solid wood windows though there are exceptions to this with Capiz and Solid Wood window combinations.
The process of making capiz goods involves several steps. Capiz starts as round, jagged pieces of shell, which are first soaked in tubs of water and mild acid to clean and soften them. After soaking, they are laid out to dry. Using large scissors, artists then carefully cut the shells into smaller shapes. Once the pieces are cut, artist are able to add many colors through the use of bleaching and applying dyes aside from painting them. Why we call Capiz, Capiz is still a mystery but there maybe a clue in Capiz province.
The decline in the use of the Capiz window started in the 1920s-1940s. The introduction of glass to the Philippines in the form of American Industry started the decline of the Capiz window, The capiz window by this time was no longer a middle-high class item, Capiz turned into a Middle-low class item. The richest would either use stained glass or use stained glass paired with some capiz. The Art-Deco movement at the time did not help the Capiz window as most architects at the time like Juan Arellano used very little to no capiz at all in their designs favoring instead the new Stained glass window. The effect on the usage on capiz was small as only the rich started using glass but the decline was notable.
The most significant decline in use was in the 1950s-1970s. By the end of World War 2 and the subsequent restoration projects in the Philippines capiz window had become unfavored, one reason was because by the 1950s and 60s glass was starting to become very common and starting to match the price of Capiz windows. In urbanized areas like Cebu, Davao and most importantly Manila it was much easier to import glass than to make Capiz windows. Jalousie window designs started to overtake the Capiz designs, part of the reason the usage of Capiz was declining at the time was because Filipinos wanted a new start after the war meaning the change was not only in price and practicality but also in Culture. By the 1970s the usage of Capiz had almost disappeared in building new house. Modernist styles were in vogue and pushed out traditional Filipino styles. The accessibility of magazines and radio sped up the decline of Capiz. The capiz window at this time was only used in more rural parts of the Philippines.
Today Capiz windows have seen a resurgence as many appreciate old Ancestral houses or simply appreciate the design of Capiz windows. The use of Capiz windows are now more of a fashion statement that you appreciate the old and want to continue the tradition. Capiz windows now are expensive unless you buy from a mass producer.