Let there be light
All light comes from the sky, but how do we judiciously get it in?
The title of this essay sounds paradoxical. Even a child knows that all the light we get comes from the sky! So, what’s the big deal in saying it loud, you may ask.
Looking for answers, we realise the other paradox. All light comes from the sky, but we need to build roofs for shelter and block all the light. It’s alright, we say, looking at the rows of windows lining up the wall. Then, we live in crowded cities with houses in a continuous row or minimal setback space in between which finally appear like narrow and deep canyons. No house would get any direct light or moving air. Living in a tropical country, we complain about lack of light and put on the electric light.
It could be interesting to know how our elders managed in the past, without electricity. Of course, most buildings were built with small windows and less light, yet they had a wonderful idea in ‘open-to-sky’ spaces, flooding the internal court with light, which then would spread around the building.
From Pompei in Italy to Angkor Wat in Cambodia, be it Japanese houses at Kyoto or a farmer’s home at Melukote, all exhibit one similar characteristic — having openings to sky. Some are large congregation courts especially in public buildings, while many are within the common areas of living or dining , and a few have a light shaft in the kitchen or staircase space.
Though traditionally ‘open to sky’ features were common and have regained popularity with modern homes today, large number of house owners have not yet experienced them. How do we then explain the idea of skylight?
The easiest mode of letting people understand a skylight is by referring to them as windows to sky. While the normal window with is operable is fixed to the wall, the skylight glass has no shutters and is fixed to the roof.
Skylights are ecological features, yet serve other purposes. They are normally provided at the topmost roof position; hence require double height, or a tall atrium in public buildings. However, there is no fixed rule. Many houses have a study or storeroom with small skylights where the room height could only be 10 ft. If the first floor has a skylight, it would be naturally at normal roof position, without double height.
Today it’s fashionable to flaunt a toilet with skylight, which also helps in keeping the toilet fresh and dry. Those with regular habits of worshipping at home enjoy skylights where the deity is kept, ensuring day-long soft light near the idol.
For decades now, thousands of homes have enjoyed the benefits of skylights. Designers have experimented with their concepts, construction, details and materials. There are ideas lost and lessons learnt which could become a separate essay.