Vault Lights

The History of Sidewalk Pavement Lights

Prior to their use in city sidewalks, vault lights first appeared in 1845 as a way to provide light below deck on ships. Invented by Thaddeus Hyatt, they reduced the use of open-flame lighting that had the potential to create treacherous problems on old wooden ships. A brilliant way to light lower levels, their application spread to sidewalks in order to bring natural lighting to subterranean rooms, storage, apartments, and basements below.

From 1860 until the widespread use of electricity in the 1930s, vault lights were used across the country to convert dark spaces into usable rooms by bringing in daylight. The first design of vault lights featured a prism shape to maximize the spread of light into the room below.  Multiple prisms were configured to cover wider areas and mounted into cast-iron panels and concrete.

historic vault lights

Engraving of Thaddeus Hyatt’s 1867 Patent Basement Extension Illuminating a Sidewalk Vault

The Vault Light Evolution

Today, we see a resurgence in the use of vault lights as the benefit and sustainability of natural light is embraced by architects and designers.

The design and materials have all evolved to improve durability. These modern vault lights also feature a larger surface area, which aids in increasing the transfer of light. The early sidewalk prisms have been replaced by circular bullet glass and square vault lights.  During the day, natural light shines in, creating warmth. At night, the lighted sidewalk vault creates a dramatic entrance and a stunning feature of modern architecture.

vault lights

Puck Building New York, NY | Architect: JL Ramirez Architect PC

Vault Lights and Historic Charm

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Vault Lights Restored & Reimagined

Innovation in materials used in structural glass applications is extending the benefit of vault lights to new applications. Structural glass can now be found in walkable skylights, glass bridges, decks, balconies, landings, risers, and stair treads.

As well as new applications, innovative architects are making the old new again through the use of the historic aesthetic of vault lights cast in composite concrete or cast iron frames, which can be used for walls and ceilings.  Prefabricated panels can be custom-engineered to achieve the architect’s vision. Built to withstand structural loading requirements, the design can incorporate different glass shapes, textures, and colors. Steel, stainless steel, and cast iron pavement lights are available in a variety of finishes and colors too.

sidewalk vault lights

Raised Circular Sidewalk Vault Lights

Glass Bullets and Cast Iron Vault Lights from Circle Redmont

Our 81R™ Glass Bullets and Cast Iron Vault Lights add a unique appearance anywhere they are used. Our products are so elegant, that they have been approved by the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission as appropriate replacements for historic cast iron and glass bullet vault light fixtures. Available in a variety of sizes and thicknesses, we can also provide the thresholds, corners, and joint assemblies to make installation easier. These glass bullet and cast iron vault lights become a focal point of the design and are a perfect balance of old sophistication and modern chic.

Circle Redmont’s Glass Pavers & Metal Systems

For projects that require maximum glass coverage as well as the highest illumination, we suggest our 91R™ Glass Pavers & Metal Systems. These glass pavers shine their brightest when used in bridges, stair treads, or in other applications where lighting every step is the desired effect. Our glass pavers and metal systems are custom designed and manufactured, so whether they are for the oval office or a simple square cityscape, we provide what is needed effectively and efficiently. Our glass can cover any area and any shape with ease.

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

8.5 min readPublished On: September 25, 2022Categories: Glass Applications

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