Roof Lanterns: modern design, with a long history

Roof Lanterns must be one of the most significant trends in home improvement and interior design to happen in the last few years. It is very easy to understand their appeal and increasing popularity. Roof lanterns give the interior of a modern home a welcome boost of natural light, as well as being a visually appealing new feature, from both outside and inside the building.

But because they seem to have had this huge burst in popularity in recent years, it would be easy to only think of them purely as a modern lighting solution. That is however not the case at all, roof lanterns have been a feature of great architecture since the middle ages. Many of the great renaissance churches and cathedrals still impress us today with their beautiful lantern roofs and domes. The eternally beautiful Baptistery in the heart of Florence for example features a wonderfully understated roof lantern in the centre of its breath-taking golden ceiling. And what is the iconic dome in London’s St Paul’s Cathedral but a spectacular example of what a roof lantern can add to a building.

As architectural techniques developed, roof lanterns became a popular addition to manor houses and stately homes. Vaendre Hall near Cardiff for example features a lovely lighthouse style roof lantern. Eventually, by the Victorian age, roof lanterns began to be commonplace features in more modest homes and buildings, bringing in much needed natural light into narrow corridors and dimly lit stairwells. They are a common feature on the roofs of 18th century terraces and town houses in many European cities such as Paris.

The roof lantern went out of fashion somewhat in the early twentieth century. But in the last forty years, huge developments in building materials and engineering have seen the use of glass as a major feature of modern architecture. From the now famous domed roof lantern on top of Berlin’s Reichstag building, to the Shard and Gherkin that dominate the modern London skyline, the desire for natural light is at the heart of modern building design.

The resurgence of the roof lantern as a desirable feature for ordinary homeowners was therefore perhaps inevitable. The modern Atlas aluminium roof lanterns are a great example of the best of modern day roof lantern design. At only 40mm thick, the sturdy aluminium frames have an incredibly sleek slim line look, in keeping with the desirable uncluttered look of the modern home and are designed to let the maximum amount of natural light in.

Our renaissance forbears were probably less concerned with the issues of “thermal efficiency” or “U-values” than we might be today. The modern aluminium framed roof lantern can wear its green credentials with pride. It is designed to keep the home well insulated, especially when combined with efficient double glazing (the Atlas lanterns can deliver U-values as low as 1.2-1.5 W/m2K). Furthermore, the modern roof lantern owner doesn’t have to worry about leaks, damp and wind-proofing in the same way the owner of a period home owner might. Today’s roof lanterns require very little maintenance and will easily deal with the harshest weather conditions year after year. As with so many trends and innovations, whether in architecture, product design or technology, new solutions are usually the result of taking old solutions and simply improving on them.
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