Depressed by its gloomy offices, a company in Washington DC saw its dreams of a brighter future come true with the help of a rooftop mirror and a giant glass pipe …
It’s the closest anybody has come to bottling sunshine.

When law firm Morgan Lewis acquired its 14-storey building on Pennsylvania Avenue, the cellular offices were ranged around a 50 m deep shaft. Staff faced the prospect of spending their days staring out at a dark, concrete wall.

Then architect Carpenter Norris came up with a brilliant idea. The firm filled the cavity with a 35 m high glass cylinder, designed to redirect sunlight through the building’s internal windows. On the roof, a rotating computer-controlled 5 m2 mirror tracks the sun and redirects its beams via a second mirror down the glass tube, which refracts them into the offices.

At night, xenon light-cannons on the roof shoot artificial rays across the mirror. The light’s colours can be changed using filters – for Independence Day on 4 July, the theme was red, white and blue.

Steve Malinka, a partner in the firm, says: “The reaction to it has been fantastic. It’s become a signature of our firm and has created an esprit de corps – we’ve seen lower staff turnover.”

The pipe’s co-designer Davidson Norris says: “We are very proud of it; nothing like it has been done before.” At least not for 4000 years or so, since Egyptian builders made use of sequences of mirrors to bring sunlight into the pyramids.