Victorian Architects Knew How to Design Off-Grid


Dylan Reid at Spacing quotes Michael Redhill's novel Consolation, describing an 1856 photography studio:

They did not have the benefit of Mr. Ennis’s skylight to effect the passage of light into the room, but the front south-facing window was almost as good. A series of three mirrors brought light in off the street and into the middle of the shop. … Being indirect, it was softer light, and exposures were longer and therefore more uncertain.

He then continues with a description of what other tricks architects used back then to make interior space usable.


At a time when artificial light was either weak (candles) or very expensive (gaslight), the maximization of natural light in a building was vital to a building's success.

"When I interviewed City Councillor Adam Vaughan, he suggested that one of the reasons why preserving Victorian buildings is valuable is that they had developed a range of techniques for managing natural light and its energy efficiently — techniques that we can learn about and bear in mind as we try to move towards a more sustainable, less energy-intensive future.

These techniques brought in direct light and heat in the winter, but only indirect light in the summer to keep the interior cool. Bay windows, for example, are not just ornamental. They bring in a lot of light with less exposure of energy-leaking windows, while in the summer they keep the heat of the direct high sun away from the main part of the room." ::Spacing

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