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….



I had been to this place as a student on a study(?) tour ;-). It amazed me just because i had never been to a place like that before. I couldn’t understand the concept of Matrimandir then. It totally surprised me…shocked me. When we passed the chamber (that time we were not allowed to enter in) that ambiance was astonishing. I couldn’t make out what was happening? Where the light is coming from? Why it is reflected so much? and most of all why this place has been made? I even tried to grasp through some books but no use.


Last month i happened to visit the Matrimandir again along with my husband. And we actually meditated in the chamber. The experience was incredible. This time i understood the reason for its existence.Its a place for trying to find ones consciousness. I will not explain about my own spiritual experience.You have to feel it yourself. But yes definitely i wish to share the architectural part of it.plan

Matrimandir’s inner chamber is the conceptualization of  Mother’s vision. She actually visualized each and every dimension of this structure .The globe structure as a whole was designed by Architect Roger Anger.

banyan tree siteThis was the site chosen for the structure. One thing to mention here that this was the only green creature on that land that time.Today you can witness a dense vegetation as a result of the conscious efforts of Aurovilians.

foundation stageThere was no contractor appointed to construct this gigantic structure. People from all over the world united there, were working themselves in consortium.

Plinth level T.K.Santhanam, scientist at Structural Engineering Research Center, Madras calculated its structure.

structure The Aurovilian architect Piero Cicionesi prepared all working drawings and supervised the project

columnsThe principal load carrying members of superstructure are the four pairs of sickle shaped, 38m high reinforced concrete piers. Every other component is supported by these piers.Each pair of pier is 2.1m.The thickness is 40cm. above ground level and varies from 40cm. to 70 cm. below.

structureThe four pairs of ribs as an extension of four pillars, are joined by ring beams at 1st and 2nd levels, chamber floor level and at very top.

vertical sectionThis section explains the structural ambiguity.

space framePrefabricated beams each weighing half a ton, altogether formed the space frame which gave the structure that spherical look.outer shell

The outer shell consists of ferrocement triangles (with a hole at heir center to install a porthole) which were prefabricated in the workshop, lifted in place and then grouted.A membrane then applied to the whole surface to waterproof it. But 10 years later it had to be reapplied as it was not adhering to the surface.

innerskinTo create a translucent inner skin of a color prescribed by Mother (hibiscus flower peach) a very special white fabric made up of fiber glass woven in a sophisticated manner has been stretched over 756 triangular frames. Colored foil of a precise color is placed on the outer shell’s 668 portholes to filter the natural light that enters in through then in day time.At night time the colored light is provided by 1320 electronic modules.golden dics

Flattened sphere is covered with some 1400 golden discs to symbolize a radiating golden supra mental sun.1/3rd of the discs are concave and large weighing 210 kg. (dia 2.3m -2.4m), 2/3 rd are convex and smaller (dia 1.3m, 1.4m, 1.5m. and 1.6m).About a 3rd of total discs made of glass reinforced plastic and others are of stainless steel.

second levelOne of the two spiral ramps leading up to the chamber

inner chamberAt the center of the room, there is object of concentration upon which falls a single vertical beam of sunlight.This object is a crystal globe, 70cm dia, 400 kg., custom made of optically perfect glass made in Germany by “Scott” and later polished by “Zeiss”. It rests on a cube stand, 35cm side, consisting of 4 upright gilded symbol of Aurobindo that hold each other up by the points of their triangles. This cube stands at the center of the room of 3m diameter symbol of the mother which is engraved in white marble slab.Crystal globe is positioned exactly at the center of the sphere.The mother stressed that the important thing is the play of the sunbeam on the center as that becomes the symbol of “Future Realization”.

heliostatHeliostat is used to capture the sun beam. The same sun beam passes through the crystal and finally reached the lotus pond crystal.lotus pondBelow the sphere Architect wanted to build a lotus pond but when he realized that lotus will not bloom in the shade, instead of lotus pond he used 216 petal shaped marble slabs to create a pond over which water flows from outside towards the center.There is a crystal globe 17cm dia at center of pond.meditation roomsThere are 12 meditation rooms around the sphere representing 12 human qualities like Sincerity, Humility, Aspiration, Gratitude, Perseverance, Receptivity, Courage, Generosity, Peace, Equality, Progress, Goodness.All rooms have the same shape as that of Matrimandir -a small flattened sphere.All are in 12 different colors as per the quality like.

meditation roomsOne sits on a concrete slab clad with marble,which seems to float inside the flattened sphere.The room is air conditioned and there is one translucent oval disc made up of glass reinforced plastic for concentration at eye level. This object is placed in front of small window through which natural light enters in during day time.Auroville artists has designed some geometric patterns on these objects.amphitheatreThe Amphitheater’s inner dia is 75m and outer is 98m and 2.2 m deep. Rainwater is evacuated by gravity toward the northwest by a underground pipeline.Three times a year a large bonfire is lit at dawn in middle of Amphitheatre.Aurovillians and well wishers gather for collective meditation.Cultural performances rarely take place.


This is a very good example of Symbolism in Architecture. The concept of  human  unity and one’s consciousness is well executed as Matrimandir. The path to consciousness is through the realization of the inner self and ultimately that supreme power- the Mother. The Mother here doesn’t mean mother as a person. It means the Supreme Power- Shakti. Shri Aurobindo’s concept of mother also referred to that ultimate power. But over the period of time it has become person specific as a result of misinterpretation of Aurobindo’s Concept. Whereas its still the divine eternal source of energy – omnipresent.