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Short description: Air shaft or atrium
Lightwells in the Pentagon
Lightwells in the Pentagon

In architecture, a lightwell,[NB 1] sky-well,[NB 2] or air shaft is an unroofed or roofed external space provided within the volume of a large building to allow light and air to reach what would otherwise be a dark or unventilated area. Lightwells may be lined with glazed bricks to increase the reflection of sunlight within the space. Lightwells may have sunlight reflecting mirrors on the top of light well.[1]

Lightwells serve to reduce the necessity for electric lighting, add a central space within the building, and provide an internal open space for windows to give an illusion of having a view outside.

Area or areaway

Main page: Engineering:Area (architecture)

A subterranean lightwell by any frontage of a building for light to a basement is also called an area (or areaway in North American usage). This may also allow pedestrian access to the building separate from a main door.

Ancient history

The lightwell was used in ancient civilizations, such as the Egyptians[2] and at the Palace of Knossos on Minoan Crete.[3] There are also instances of lightwell use by the Romans, the impluvium and compluvium shaft.[4] In traditional Chinese architecture, the 天井 (sky well) also exists.[5]

See also


  1. light well, light-well
  2. skywell, sky well


  1. [1] Environmental assessment of light well in high-rise apartment building | Hisashi Kotania; ∗, Masaya Narasakia, Ryuji Satob, Toshio Yamanakaa | Department of Architectural Engineering, Graduate School of Engineering, Osaka University, Suita Osaka 565-0871, Japan | Department of Architecture, Osaka Institute of Technology, Osaka, Japan | 17 January 2002| Building and Environment 38 (2003) 283 – 289 | Size of light well (m) 13m × 12m × 62m (height)
  2. Bagnall, Roger S; Frier, Bruce W (2006). The demography of Roman Egypt. Cambridge, New York City: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-46123-8. OCLC 28927049. 
  3. Hogan, C Michael (2008-04-14). "Knossos". The Modern Antiquarian. 
  4. Higginbotham, James Arnold (1997). Piscinae: Artificial Fishponds in Roman Italy. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press. ISBN 978-0-8078-2329-3. OCLC 35172558. 
  5. You, Xiaoying (12 July 2023). "How ancient 'skywells' are keeping Chinese homes cool". BBC.