The Sidewalk Vault Light Renaissance

Vault Lights Make a Historic Statement

Before they had a way to bring artificial light to ships, shipbuilders of the 19th century developed the ingenious idea to incorporate glass into the flooring of the vessels as a way to provide light to dark spaces below deck. These vault lights, as they would become known, were invented by the American inventor and builder Thaddeus Hyatt. The vault lights were a valuable innovation because they reduced the need for torches, lanterns, and other open-flame lighting that sometimes caused catastrophic fires on old wooden ships. 

Thaddeus’s brilliant innovation was soon adopted by cities and developers who incorporated vault lights into sidewalks and other surfaces as a way to bring daylight to below-ground spaces such as apartments, basements, storage spaces, and other subterranean rooms. In the United States, from 1860 until the widespread use of electricity in the 1930s, vault lights brought daylight to dark spaces.

The first vault lighting featured glass shaped like prisms to maximize the spread of light into the room below. To further maximize the light below ground, subsequent sidewalk vault lights incorporate several rows of prisms in cast-iron panels or concrete. 

Vault Lights Find Dual Uses

The demand for sustainable light sources and the beauty of new glass products on the market have led to a resurgence in the use of vault lights

As many designers and architects know, advances in materials and the design of new products have improved the durability of vault lights Many feature a larger surface area for increased light penetration. Those 19th-century sidewalk prisms have been reimagined as circular bullet glass and square vault lights. 

In daylight hours, they allow natural light to shine into indoor spaces. Lit from within at night, the glass pieces create a dramatic and warm architectural statement. 

Historic Vault Lights Inspire New Products 

There are now many structural glass applications that have evolved from the 19th-century innovation of vault lights. Walkable skylights, glass bridges, decks, balconies, landings, and stair treads and risers are just some of the products that allow contemporary architects and designers to bring light into spaces and allow interior lights to shine through at night.

Glass manufacturers have created panels and other products to fit a modern design  aesthetic as well as those that are reminiscent of the historic vault lights in composite concrete or cast-iron frames. These can be used for walls and ceilings. Companies like Circle Redmont also make prefabricated panels that are custom-engineered to architect or designer specifications with various glass shapes, textures, and colors. The panels are built to withstand structural loading requirements.

Circle Redmont offers Glass “Bullets” and Cast Iron Vault Lights 

Circle Redmont’s 81R™ Glass Bullets and Cast Iron Vault Lights provide a look of vintage elegance. In fact, these products are approved by the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission as appropriate replacements for historic cast iron and glass bullet vault light fixtures. The 81R panels will restore your cast iron pavement lights to their original splendor.

Circle Redmont offers the vault lights in several sizes and thicknesses. The company also provides thresholds, corners, and joint assemblies for easier installation. These glass bullet and cast iron vault lights are a striking architectural detail and a perfect balance of timeless and modern design. Glass bullet and cast iron vault lights can be used in many applications including sidewalks, stair treads, riser and landings, deck lights, bridges, and more. 

Glass Pavers & Metal Systems Provide Maximum Light

Architects and designers who wish to incorporate maximum light transfer can specify Circle Redmont’s 91R™ Glass Pavers & Metal Systems. With wide glass coverage, these systems provide light every step of the way. The glass pavers and metal systems are designed to the specifications of each project, making every application a custom application. The system can cover any area and shape a designer specifies. 

Contact the Circle Redmont design team to find out how you can incorporate sidewalk vault lights in your next project.

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