Illustrated Architecture Dictionary

Also called sunburst light


A window above a door or another window, rectangular, semicircular or semi-elliptical (also called elliptical), with glazing bars radiating out like a fan

The fanlight became an increasingly important element in the design of the front door as the 18th century progressed. Gradually it became more popular to reduce the height of the door, replacing its upper register of panels with a fixed glazed panel ("fanlight") that admitted light to the hallway.

A type of transom window.

 Spider web muntins


Sunburst design

Fan bracket

Especially popular in
Colonial Revival, Federal, Georgian Revival, Neoclassical styles

The architectural device of having a window or “light” above a doorway to allow light into an otherwise gloomy hall or passageway became popular in the early 18th century. The fanlight became so successful during the Georgian period that it is iconic of the architectural style, forming the focal point and showpiece of the house frontage. It was widely used and can be found in London, Edinburgh, Dublin, Liverpool, Bristol and all the Georgian towns, even spreading to North America, and "colonial" architecture in South Africa and Australia.

Initially the windows were rectangular and were simply subdivided with wooden glazing bars, using the same joinery techniques and materials as in sash and case windows. It was perhaps the advent of Palladianism and its arched doorways that created the semicircular form that we now know as a Fanlight. This already aesthetic shape was taken as a design opportunity which reached its decorative peak at the end of the century. The published designs of Robert Adam in the 1770s had a big influence on the development of this decorative form.

The technical advances in metal casting resulted in the frames being made of cast iron and later lead, zinc and copper. Highly decorative elements were sometimes cast in bronze. This facilitated a fineness of construction and design that is unique to this neoclassical period. One of the principal manufacturers  was the Carron Ironworks, of which John Adam was a Director.
- Thistle & Rose: History of Fanlights (online May 2017)

Examples from Buffalo architecture:

Other examples:

Photos and their arrangement 2002 Chuck LaChiusa
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