On this site we like to talk a lot about unusual historic windows. A few months ago I wrote about the unique witch windows. Today, I want to share one of the more unusual windows you may not have heard of called a laylight. Essentially, a laylight is a window that is installed on the interior of a building to allow light to pass into lower sections of the building’s interior that don’t have any windows.
You may be thinking that’s a skylight, but there is a marked difference between a laylight and a skylight. A skylight is placed on the roof and separates the exterior from the interior whereas a laylight is completely inside the building. It doesn’t keep the weather out or provide ventilation. Its sole purpose is to allow light into darker interior rooms. A laylight is essentially a the decorative window below the skylight.
Laylights in Architecture
Laylights are just one form of daylighting which is the practice of designing a building to utilize sunlight to provide for the lighting needs of the occupants as much as possible. Laylights can be very simple for use in residences, but these are fairly rare. They are typically found in larger buildings built before the advent of electricity like the US Capitol Building and the many other state and federal buildings built before the late 1800s like the Wisconsin Capitol Building.
Rooms in small buildings could receive enough light since they were situated on the exterior of the home or building. Once buildings got very large they inevitably contained rooms on the interior of the structure with no access to exterior light.
Sure, a skylight could allow light into the top floor’s interior rooms, but what about those rooms below? That’s where the laylight really shines (pardon the pun). Installing a laylight on the floor of an upper story that had good sunlight allowed the sunlight to pass through to the darkened floors below.
The laylight was a technology that largely disappeared after the advent of electricity since there was now an efficient way to get light into these inner rooms. Prior to electricity the poor saps who worked in those dark inner rooms had to burn candles or oil lamps all day even when the rest of the world could enjoy the sunlight.
There is always something new to learn about historic architecture that you didn’t before. Hopefully, this little piece of history is something you can use at you next office party to stump the trivia crowd. If you want to learn more about historic windows check out my post 29 Window Terms You Might Not Know.
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I love old houses, working with my hands, and teaching others the excitment of doing it yourself! Everything is teachable if you only give it the chance.