Abandon hope…

This week’s Design File is about the Revolving Door, which was suggested by a friend who dislikes using the revolving door in a nearby hotel. I had no idea that the history behind it was so interesting but I’ve always recognised the importance of a good doorway.

Mies van der Rohe's face on the student building, Illinois Institute of Technology,  designed by Rem Koolhaas

Mies van der Rohe’s face on the student building entrance doors, Illinois Institute of Technology, designed by Rem Koolhaas


Chicago and UK 2013 129In feng shui, the doorway to a building is known as the Mouth of Chi, as it’s through this that most of the life-enhancing energy of the surrounding landscape enters the building. Whatever you think of a practice like feng shui, I think it’s true that a clear entrance is a lovely thing. Traditional Chinese buildings do them beautifully – think of those red columns and guarding lions which represent Heaven and Earth (balancing the yin/ yang chi that enters). No problem finding the door.

Chinese Embassy, Canberra

Chinese Embassy, Canberra

When I used to consult clients who were feeling listless or that life was passing them by, one of the first things I noticed was how difficult it was to find their home. A gateway might be placed on a side street or lacked a number. Pathways were overgrown. The door looked scruffy and abandoned. Happily these were things that could be remedied. Haven’t you noticed that some doorways seem to mutter, “Sorry” whereas others really sing out a joyful ‘welcome’?

Welcome all cars! (NB This is a house, honestly)

Welcome all cars! (NB This is a house, honestly)

Can you imagine a major religious or parliament building or a palace without a decent doorway? They have to be prominent. And yet we don’t always follow that with our homes.Many modern homes give more prominence to the garage. The home says: “Welcome all cars! People, well, you’ll just have to figure out where the door is.”

Milan station Photo: Matta Luigi Nappi

Milan Centrale station
Photo: Matta Luigi Nappi

The notion of a doorway can be extended. You might say that a station is a gateway to a city. The Italians certainly understand this. Milan’s central station is a massive triumphal archway of a building. Florence’s, on the other hand, is a surprise. Michelucci’s slick 1930s Rationalist lines seem to be at odds with the Renaissance splendour of the city it serves. And yet the same modern trick is done in Venice and Rome, and smaller provincial cities too, and it works. Are airports the new gateways?

Florence's Santa Maria Novella station 1932 Photo: Saliko, Wikipedia

Florence’s Santa Maria Novella station 1932
Photo: Saliko, Wikipedia

There’s something special about passing through a great entrance. It says: you’re important. Sometimes it says: we’re important so you’d better behave. But a building with a hidden or unclear entrance (a popular style in the 1960s) is just saying: no one’s important. A rebellious doorway at best, pointless at worst.

So what are your favourites?

Categories: DesignTags: , , , , , , , ,


  1. Couldn’t agree with you more especially the doors on the sheds built for cars holding prominence at the front of the house.

  2. Here is a mathematical perspective on revolving doors! Sample question from the PISA tests. The correct answer is D

  3. This is a really lovely post – very thought provoking. Though I have to say you have some odd friends … Yes, I have to make sure no-one is already in the revolving door before I enter it. It all seems too much and so I have to handle it on my own.

    You are so right, doorways are very important – probably subconsciously more often than not. I always remember you telling me, with your Feng Shui hat on, that to help sell our house put some bright, eyecatching flowers by the front door. It worked a treat! Hate it when the garage us more prominent than the front door. Says a lot about the society, I think.

    My favourite Doorway? I used to love the Venetian doorways, so beautiful and you entered them from the canal. Magical!

    • Ooh yes, doesn’t a Venetian doorway summon up so many beguiling images! I love entering Gothic cathedrals when you get that sudden upward whoosh of energy as you get inside (Frank Lloyd Wright was a master of this, too). I’m fascinated by people’s reactions to revolving doors now – I keep stopping whenever I pass one to see if anyone’s behaving oddly!

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