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The Origins of Skylights


Skylights originated in ancient Rome during the first century with the construction of the Pantheon, a massive dome structure built in 127 A.D. used to honor various Roman gods.

A Timeline 

From the first open-air skylight built by the ancient Romans to today’s modern skylight, here is a brief history of how skylights made their way into millions of homes across the globe.  

  • 127 A.D. – Ancient Romans completed the construction of the Pantheon, one of the first know structures with an open-air skylight. 
  • 13th-century – Glass skylights were just starting to be used in medieval structures such as castles, cathedrals, and lighthouses.
  • 1674 – George Ravenscroft developed lead glass which significantly improved the heat retention of glass making skylights a more useful and practical product.
  • The Industrial Revolution – Significant advances were made in the machine production of glass making skylights more reliable, cheaper, and more available for consumer use. 
  • World War II – Skylights became more popular in residential homes with the invention of the “No Leak” skylight by Villum Kann-Rasmussen.
  • Present Day – Skylights make up a 3.08-billion-dollar market and can be seen in millions of commercial and residential structures across the globe.

The Ancient Romans 

The ancient Romans were the first to incorporate the concept of natural light from above in their architecture with the construction of the Pantheon in 127 A.D. Later, ancient Rome used glass in structures like bathhouses and communal areas. During this time glass-making was still in its infancy which ended up creating more problems than it solved when the glass would break easily.

Skylights in Medieval Structures

During the 13th century, some of the first recorded glass skylights were used in structures like cathedrals, castles, and lighthouses. The glass in these early skylights could only reach 3 ft in length because of the continued difficulties of making larger glass panes. 

17th Century France

While the Romans were the first to start using glass architecture, it could be argued that the French were the first to perfect it. During the 17th century, they were the world leaders when it came to using skylights in architecture with the creation of beautiful structures filled with natural light from above like the Halle aux blés in Paris built in 1765.

The Industrial Revolution 

With the Industrial Revolution came big changes in terms of how glass was used and manufactured. The rise in machine manufacturing made it easier to manufacture and refine large sheets of glass spanning 6 to 9 feet. During this time, not only was glass easier to manufacture, but it was also easier to glaze, which opened doors for glass to be used in smaller structures and residential homes. 

World War II 

In Copenhagen, during World War II a man named Villum Kann-Rasmussen created a more homeowner-friendly skylight. In the past, skylights were often only used in large construction projects such as government buildings or commercial properties. Villum created a smaller skylight using wood framing, zinc cladding, and condensation drains that would not leak and could be placed in people’s homes. 

Present Day

Today, skylights are not only in cooperate headquarters, massive sports facilities, and government buildings but also in millions of residential homes across the globe. The skylight industry is worth more the 3 billion dollars and is expected to grow to 4.5 billion by 2028. Technologically, skylights have come a long way as they are very durable, rarely leak, and can sometimes be installed within a day. Modern skylights can open and close on their own and be equipped with shades that are powered either by electricity or solar energy.

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