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12 Types of Passive Light

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Passive lighting is any architectural element that uses sunlight to light interiors without using electronics such as solar panels. This includes both techniques perfected before the invention of electric light and approaches that make use of modern materials and design knowledge. The following are common types of passive lighting.


Regular windows are a type of passive lighting. Smart windows aren't considered passive as they are a type of electronic device.

Light Shelves

Light shelves are horizontal structures located at a window to reflect light deep into a room.


Traditional Japanese room separators made with semi-translucent paper in a wooden frame. Allows light to travel through interiors and for interior walls to be retracted for more light during the day. Exterior facing shoji are essentially large windows that offer diffused light as opposed to harsh direct sunlight.

Translucent Concrete

Concrete walls that are designed to let some light pass through typically using fiber optics.

Light Wells

An open space within a building designed to bring light and ventilation to deep interior spaces. Typically a small space that is somewhat usable as a garden or patio.


An open space within a building that is larger than a lightwell with highly usable space. May be open air or have a glass roof.

Roof Monitors

An elevated structure built into a roof to provide more space for windows.

Light Tubes

A tube designed to capture sunlight and transport it into a room.

Sunlight Transport

Sunlight transport is a general term for passive systems that capture sunlight and transport it to interior spaces. Modern methods such as fiber optics can move sunlight efficiently deep into the interior of structures.

External Reflectors

Devices on the exterior of a building that are designed to reflect light into the building.

Bottle Walls

A wall that uses recycled glass as small windows. Tends to provide highly diffused ambient light that isn't too bright. Attractive to reuse enthusiasts.


A clerestory is a high section of a wall used for windows that are above eye level. This allows light to travel deep into a room. The height of the windows allows for strong sunlight and ample ventilation without feeling too bright or drafty.
Overview: Passive Lighting
Architectural elements that use sunlight to light interiors without employing electronics such as solar panels.
Also Known As
Passive Daylighting
Related Concepts

Lighting Design

This is the complete list of articles we have written about lighting design.
Ambient Light
Bottle Wall
Light Shelves
Neon Lights
Passive Light
Safety Glass
Smart Glass
Sunlight Transport
Sustainable Lighting
Tempered Glass
Window Glass
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