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Consider the corridor: lessons from architectural history

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

As architects, we often take the seemingly banal decisions that we make for granted. However, many of the devices that we employ carry social and historical implications that have had a profound effect on the way humans function. Corridors were not an inevitability. Often overlooked in the grand sweep of architectural history, they have had an enormous impact on the way we live, work, and communicate.

Despite their ubiquity today, corridors did not exist until the late 17th century, and were only first widely used in the 19th century. Before their adoption, circulation flowed from one room to the next, forcing interactions and confrontations between the occupants of rooms, and those just passing through. Largely determined by socio-economic factors, political upheaval, and changing approaches to morality, corridors were invented to serve a very specific purpose. They were developed as a tool to separate different groups of people – the servants – from the served, the jailed from the jailors, and workers from distractors. By separating circulation from destination, they increased the efficiency through which people could move through buildings, while at the same time turning rooms into a series of dead ends.

Few architectural devices have had as great an impact on the way that we interact in our daily lives. What can we learn from the way building worked before their existence, and the factors leading to their invention? Can understanding this history affect the way we design today? When does it make sense to organize a plan around a corridor, and in what situations should we consider other circulation patterns?

- Tad Jusczyk

Tad Jusczyk is a member of Shepley Bulfinch’s architectural staff.

2 Responses to “Consider the corridor: lessons from architectural history”

  1. Luke Voiland Says:

    Interestingly the corridor concept begins to bring “order” to cities in the 19th century. Haussmann’s plan for Paris cut through neighborhoods that were self organized around medieval paths. The new boulevards effectively made possible a new concept of privacy. Where before people had to meander through the entire neighborhood to traverse the city they could now cut straight to their destination along the new boulevards. The creating of a “corridor” in the city further emphasized public versus private in the urban realm.

  2. Tom Simister Says:

    Corridors are often a crutch for less creative layouts. They seem to neatly divide more than connect. To unravel the issue one might start by discarding the term itself, which right away seems to limit the potential use and feeling of these spaces. By thinking about how to name these connective spaces, we immediately bring value and interest to them. Corridors envisioned as spaces for impromptu gatherings and work sessions are actually programmed spaces. If they’re connected vertically, infused with daylight and plants, and used as part of a natural ventilation strategy, the character of such a space becomes more of a focus than a transition. We must do more with less!