Design elements

Transition Spaces

Transition – an in between state, in Architecture defined as the connecting space between two confined spaces. Architectural spaces are incomplete without transition spaces. Transition spaces have been always an interesting topic for me. My  friend Rupali and I actually had presented a seminar on Transition Spaces in Hindu Temple Complex. We concentrated more on the psycological and physicl transition of a person


“Architectural spaces that envelop us like a physical presence, simple and dense, defying description imitation and photography. . . . universal, yet present. The exterior is simple leading to greater levels of mystery surprise and memory, creating poetic changes of light and shade . . . guiding us through its spaces . . . .”

Alvarso Siz on Mexican Architecture

The inclusion of transitional and circulation spaces, in the form of corridors, draught lobbies, atriums and stairwells, is unavoidable in the design of most non-domestic buildings. The percentages of such areas may vary between 10 to 40 percent of the total volume in different building types.


Transitional spaces are defined as spaces located in-between outdoor and indoor environments acting as both buffer space and physical link. Other than being functional as circulatory routes for the building, the designs of these spaces is considered very important by building designers for reasons of aesthetics, health and comfort, and as emergency exit routes in the event of fire. The importance of optimum energy consumption in transitional spaces is also important in non-domestic buildings, as these spaces do not generate income, hence any wastage associated with higher energy cost is economically difficult to justify.


We transit so frequently that we are not even aware of the presence of that space. It is very interesting to know about it. We experience them from macro to micro levels.


Right from the  prehistoric architecture  there was an apparent evidence of the usage of transition spaces and transition elements as well.In Neolithic period, we can see the confined spaces for transition in the adjoining excavated dwelling at Skara Brae.


In Egyptian, Pre Columbian and Persian period these spaces were enriched due to utilitarian aspect and got  a new dimension. Their functionality had increased due to timely requirements of the respective user.


petra-pharaohs-treasure-1Petra pharaohs, courtesy National Geographic

Greek, Roman was the period when Architecture flourished at its best. It had contributed lots of inventions in terms of construction techniques, designing details. These spaces very used so intelligently that they acquired a new position in the design elements.

Basilica roman

In Indian architecture, the very ancient civilizations like Mohanjo daro and Harappa were expertly constructed as an advanced civilization comparable to ancient Mesopotamia and Egypt. If we study the city planning here, you will find a well thought planned city with the interplay of transition spaces.

mohenjo-daro-5Courtesy photograph: National Geographic photograph

Indian temples are one of the best places to study transition spaces. If we read the temple plan we will arrive at the hierarchy of transition spaces. The very first transition happens when we enter in the temple through giant Gopuram. Then we come to Sabhamandapa that is connected to Mandapa through a colonnade acting as a transition space. Then the Antaralaya between the Mandapa and Garbhgriha stands as another transition space. Garbhgriha is again protected by Pradakshina path one more form of transition space. There is hierarchy of transition spaces here. This transition is not only a physical transition but also a psychological transition required to enter in a god’s abode. A person entering into a temple mentally gets prepared for his actual confrontation to almighty. He can’t directly enter to Garbhagriha as he cannot achieve that level of devotion required to enter in a shrine. He develops it slowly through transcendental travelleling of his own self.


There is hierarchy of transition spaces in any urban planning like City level, Town level, District level, Local level. The entire road network is a transition mode. Then interaction spaces, gathering spaces, urban corridors, plazas standstill again as  transition spaces in their own way. Urban nodes can also be referred as transition space at macro level.

Transition spaces play a vital role in Environmental Behavior. It is the study that covers relationship between human behavior and properties of urban places, the study of the mutual interactions among people, social groups, culture and the physical environment at all scales from interior architecture to regional planning, with applications to improve the quality of life through improved environmental policy, planning and design.


The one of the most important functions of transition spaces is sustainability in building design. The accurate use of these spaces in a builtform may increase its energy efficiency up to great extent. The design considerations should include this space as a constraint. When architects talk about orientation of the building, built form, site organization, topography, landscape then they should consider Transition Spaces as one of the aspects in building design.

Lets discuss few of them.

The peripheral corridors reduce the glare and solar radiation, resulting in cooling in the interior spaces.


The connecting passage between two dwelling units creates a comfort level for the inhabitants. See the image below, it acts a pleasant sit out as well.


The provision of water bodies in a transition space invokes cool breezes giving out the cooling effect to the interiors.


Courtyards have been a hot favorite for vernacular style. Even today courtyard planning is used in India. Being a transition space courtyards also act as a very functional interaction space.


If we compare building designs with wrapped around circulation space, with internal corridor, with courtyard, with wrapped around circulation space with courtyard, we would find that the last design with external circulation space and courtyard is the most efficient design in terms of energy saving and benefits the most from the change in temperature.Design guidelines for all types of climate suggest the importance of transition spaces. For example, in warm and humid climate the building spacing should be such that the air flow is promoted



Design elements contribute a lot to transition spaces. There are colonnades, aisles, courtyards, water bodies, openings like doorways , pathways, grounds, patios, gardens, trellis, pergolas, foyers, lobbies etc. If there is no defined space then confinement by some of the above elements itself make the space functional and sensible.

Transition spaces in Indian context


Sabhamandapa in an Indian Temple

arya_phalodi-courtyardArya Phalodi Courtyard

CY5Entrance, Rajasthani Architecture


Anup Talao: A tank with a central platform and four bridges leading up to it.

This is the most elegant tranition space i have come across. It was built by Mughal King Akbar. Fatehpur Sikri is regarded as Emperor Akbar’s crowning architectural legacy. Indeed, its numerous palaces, halls, and masjids satisfy his creative and aesthetic impulses, typical of Mughals.

We will certainly talk about Fatehpur Sikri in detail in near future.Watch out….



Staircase is one of the strongest transition elements in architecture. It establishes the connection between two spaces, interior and exterior, two different levels. The position of this element in a building has  been always  irreplaceable.

staircase toy

The stairs are one of the oldest buildings in architectural history, they have always played a central role in the history of humanity, although it is difficult to tell exactly in which year they were born, it is believed its appearance was by the year 6000 before Christ. The stairs seems to change shape with the change of architectural eras, reflecting the trends used in different ages and revealing the talent of those who designed them.

alternate stairsAn alternating tread stair climbing the steep slope of a pinnacle in Pinnacles National Monument, California, United States

The simplest form of staircase, down to Man o'War Cove, Dorset, EnglandThe simplest form of staircase, down to Man o’War Cove, Dorset, England

The first stairs in the history were wood trunks fitter together, these kind of stairs were used to acquire strategic positions for survival. In a basic sense, the first use which was given to the stairs was to overcome the difficulties presented by the terrain, such as valleys or mountains, the goal was to be able to pass these difficulties as soon as possible, move up often meant moving to a place of greater security, then this could have meant at that time the difference between life and death, it was very important to move quickly, hence the importance of the stairs.

history of stairsIn the history of the stairs they first emerged as a solution to a problem, although, years later it was found in China the first granite staircase leading to the sacred mountain in Tai Shan, this indicates that one of the utilities that was given to the stairs in his story was for religious purposes. Confucius in one of his stories said to have gone up this ladder to the top in the year 55 BC. The ladder was used in a metaphoric way reach the divine height and establish a connection between earth and sky. Other examples of stairs built for religious purposes are: the biblical Jacob’s ladder, the tower of Babel, which was a helical tower, the pyramids of Egypt that had stairs, the celestial ladder of Shantung in China, the stairs in India, a peculiarity of the stairs in India is that they had also scientific utility. All these stairs have something in common, they symbolize the rise of the light, the sun, and a way in to the gods path.

history of stairs2

Ergonomically and for safety reasons, stairs have to have certain measurements in order for people to comfortably use them. Building codes will typically specify certain measurements so that the stairs are not too steep or narrow.

There are different types of  staircases

  • Straight
  • Alternating tread
  • Spiral/ Helical/Elliptical
  • Freestanding

Straight staircases usually required more length of space to fit the flight. Also we need to break it in two flights as per the bylaws, if vertical distance to be traveled is more.So nowadays this staircase is extensively used as a decorative feature.There are lots of modifications done to accommodate more height with less flight length. Also flexible ladders is the one to mention in the same category.

Angkor Wat in CambodiaAngkor Wat in Cambodia




Alternate tread staircase may be used where there is insufficient space for the full run length of normal stairs. Alternating tread stairs allow for safe forward-facing descent of very steep stairs. The treads are designed such that they alternate between treads for each foot: one step is wide on the left side; the next step is wide on the right side.This staircase is called as Samba staircase as well.




Although these samba staircases are not comfortable to use and dangerous as they rules out all ergonomic standards.But still  its minimal space requirement has carved out niche for itself.

Spiral or Helical staircases are considered to be the most elegant among all. A spiral staircase by the mathematical definition therefore would be of little use as it would afford no change in elevation. The correct mathematical term for motion where the locus remains at a fixed distance from a fixed line whilst moving in a circular motion about it is “helix”.

You can rad more about history of spiral staircases here,


Classic spiral design



External spiral in the Palazzo Contarini del Bovolo in Venice, Italy.External-spiral-in-the-palazzo-contarini-del-bovolo-in-venice-italy

helicalHelical Staircase

metal-castle-spiral-staircaseMetal Castle Spiral Staricase

spiral-postmodern-staircase-designPostmodern Spiral Staircase

ellipticalElliptical Staircase

Freestanding staircases are not confined by walls or any other building part alike. It leads to the next level without any support.All types of spiral staircases can be freestanding as it can be erected on a single column as a support.

metal str07

metal str09

metal str10

metal str12

spiral-staircaseThere are still more to talk about guys….people are inventing innovative designs of staircases and you might have come across it already under “Amazing Staircases Section” on web. Few of them are really very functional whereas few are just for the sake of creating something unusual loosing the functionality.Still they get their positions 🙂



This modern staircase with combination of glass and steel is eye catching though its not safe for kids

helical glass

The railing of staircase can be used as an extension for furniture piece.

Clipboard07The whole staircase can be a furniture…

Stair Library

This is an awful staircase, yeah its some porn staircase i guess correct me if i am wrong.Its a lello bookshop staircase in Portugal


Have you heard about Infinity Staircase.Hey that sounds so touchy as its my blog’s name. Jokes apart nice concept to think about as a monument or piece of art.

Staircase infinity

I would rather say this staircase below would be a appropriate example of Infinity Staircase as it actually endless.Its looks like mobius strip

infinity staircaseby Michel de Broin, Montréal, 2003

What about the amalgamation of above all types of staircases? Sounds freaky yeah?..i know..but it does exits trust me…yes its a combination of spiral, helical and straight.

Clipboard16Few more to mention,

glass staircaseApple Store at San Fransisco

Clipboard17These are really interesting


Not sure about its existence


Hotel Stairway

Serpentine stair

Serpentine stair2Serpentine staircase

The “Survival Staircase” is the last remaining above ground remnant of the World Trade centre. The Vesey Street starway was used by hundreds of people to evacuate the towers on September 11th, 2001. For many, it was the only route of escape and is thus now termed the “Survivor’s stiarway”

survival staircase WTC

survival stariwaySurvival Staircase at WTC