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Kirti D. Bhonsle
Fig 1- A horizontal piece of wood or stone
“Concrete columns affixed to the brick walls with punctures to let the sunlight, air and cool breeze inside and a sloped roof to add to its beauty………” is an Architecture far beyond structural composition. It is also an art, it bears meanings in its each element, each with much more features to render…………
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rchitecture, in a historical deterministic perspective, can be viewed as a technological system that is expressed in ‘objective’ parameters such as construction, material or functional operations. Dan Rice quotes — ‘there are 3 forms of visual art: painting is art to look at, sculpture is art you can walk around and architecture is art you can walk through.”
MEANINGS OF THRESHOLDS
Looking at the literal meaning of the term, threshold can be defined as a region marking a boundary; as the sill of a door; a horizontal piece of wood or stone that forms the bottom of a doorway and offers support when passing through a doorway; as the entrance (the space in a wall) through which you enter or leave a room or building; the space that a door can close. It can also
IDEA OF THRESHOLDS
A constant that can be found in architecture is the idea of threshold; an intangible moment that delineates the inside out. One can enhance the idea of threshold by offering a multitude of transition spaces in order to enrich the experience of users and create a stronger bond between the building and its physical and sociological context. What would architecture be without thresholds? It would probably mean no transitions of spaces, which is a continuous space therefore the outside. It has to satisfy the dual function of separating as well as linking the two parts of the same building or may be two different buildings. Hence one can imagine the amount of importance that threshold carries with itself. Figure from ground, specific from generic, individual from collective, local from global: it is through the act of distinction that we ascribe and understand the relative identities of things, spaces, ideas, people. The critical ambivalence of “difference” is that it requires first a sameness to be measured against; it vacillates constantly between affinity and dissimilarity (the ones and zeroes of apprehension). As Gilles Deleuze puts it in the preface to his canonical text on the subject, difference “allows itself to lead to contradiction, only to the extent that its subordination to the identical is maintained.” The next question that comes to mind is as to – What constitutes a meaningful TRANSITION? The term may also refer to the smallest difference between two stimuli (the just-noticeable difference), in intensity, magnitude, or pitch, which can be discriminated.
Fig 2 The sill of a door
be defined as the starting point for a new state or experience or the boundary beyond which a radically different state of affairs exists. One can say that artwork needs a starting point. A book needs a preface as a starting; an essay needs an introduction etc. These elements are distinct from the core or body of the art form yet recognizable; they contribute to the whole, retaining their identity. If we talk of the same element in context to architecture, the threshold or transition is the space along which one approaches the building prior to actually entering serves as the introduction and preconditions our mind to the nature of activities within the building.
Threshold is also defined as the minimum or maximum value (established for an attribute, characteristic, or parameter) which serves as a benchmark for comparison or guidance and any breach of which may call for a complete review of the situation or the redesign of a system
The creation of transitions is therefore thresholds is intrinsic to architecture. In our modern society of consumerism, the question to ask is not whether or not we are surrounded by thresholds but what is the quality of those thresholds and how are they incorporated into the building to create a better environment. It is interesting to draw a parallel between thresholds in the field of architecture and thresholds as sociological moment. For example, death and mourning, are the most commonly situation to be associated to the phenomenon of threshold. The rituals surrounding death used to be qualified by a series of events spreading into time in order to make each death more bearable. Now this threshold, transition moment between our life before and after is supposed to last not months like but instants. Metaphysically, it represents the transition point between the outer world of the senses and the inner world of the spirit. There is an over simplification of the process and the sequences. I think there is a similar phenomenon in architecture, the process of entrance; the transitional quality of spaces is often under addressed and weak. Too often, the entry process boils down to a marquise followed by a series of monotonous doors. The richness of a building should be judged mainly by the transition experiences it proposes. In the way it suggests rituals that guide you through a journey of exploration. We would then address the issue of quality of the environment creating transition experience. The threshold should be understood as an event, a gradual transition towards a more inclusive interiority. Architecture is the mother of all arts because it has an interior that can be explored unlike in the sculptures and paintings. Transition spaces include: entrance foyers, corridors, buffer zones,
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lobbies and other transitory areas used within buildings but not permanently occupied. Such spaces have a different impact on people passing through than either outdoor or fully indoor areas.
CREATION OF THRESHOLDS
The thresholds or the transition spaces in architecture can be created by the change of light, a change of sound, a change of direction , a change of surface, a change of level, perhaps by gateways which make a change of enclosure and above all with a change in view. In short the tranquility of the thresholds is felt and maintained if it appeals to all the five senses of the human being – of touch, smell, sound, taste and sight.
Fig 3 –The colonnaded passage is marked by the play of light and shade.
tions of these spaces is very important as well. Though many modern style homes are not designed for privacy and rely on their site and surrounding for that element, I would say it is definitely something you should always be thinking about. If you are thinking about a nice transitional space to place in the middle of the home, an atrium is always a good idea. One of the most important functions of transition spaces is sustainability in building design. The accurate use of these spaces in a built form may increase its energy efficiency up to a great extent. The threshold separates the public and private sphere, private and common property and self-determined and over-directed action. As an architectural element or spatial configuration, it highlights historically specific, culturally determined zones of transition, in which certain gestures and activities are performed. Thresholds are created by elements like entrances that foster a shift in our inner state along the way. The shorter the route the more it requires variation in plant materials, arches and gates to create a sense of entry transition. “All the structures in the town get their identity most clearly from the fact that you pass through a definite gateway to enter in – it is this gateway acting as a threshold which creates the unit” — Christopher Alexander in ‘A Pattern Language’
Fig 5–Transition marked by the change of direction. [Ames cottage by Flora Grubb in San Francisco]
Fig 4 –Change of surface
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This concept is very well explored in the Japanese architecture. Japanese architecture does have great transitional spaces and an excellent connection to nature and whatever a given structure’s surrounding may be. Shoji screen halls around some of the exterior provide a nice transition between in and out. You should definitely take into account the flow of the floor plan as well when thinking about transitional spaces. The psychological and social implica-
ENTRANcES AS THRESHOLDS
A planned entrance is the conscious arrangement or organization of the elements or spaces like staircases, ramps, porches or canopies, sculptures and paintings, murals, landscaping which gives special, sometimes ceremonial significance to the threshold as a symbol of transition.
Fig 9- Sculptures emphasizing the entrance transition. [Monte-Carlo Hotel entrance at Las Vegas-10]
Fig 6 –.Entrance marked by staircase [the frontal approach leads directly to the entrance of the building along a straight axial path. The visual goal that terminates the approach is clear; it may be the entire front façade of a building or an elaborated entrance within the plane. [Buland Darwaza, Fatehpur Sikri.]
Fig 7 - Ramps defining entrance [a spiral path prolongs the sequence of the approach and emphasizes the 3d form of a building as we move around its perimeter. The building entrance might be viewed intermittently during the approach to clarify its position or it may be hidden until the point of arrival. [Museum of Contemporary Art, Rio de Janeiro, 1996 by Oscar Niemeyer.]
Fig10 – Murals on entrance walls. [St.George’s Hospital, Tooting, London]
Fig 8- Organization of ramps [the oblique approach enhances the effect of perspective on the front façade and form of a building. The path can be redirected one or more time to delay and prolong the sequence of the approach. [Birla Mandir Jaipur.]
Fig 11 – Sculptures and landscape guiding the entry. [Sarawak-Cultural-Village-entrancetotems-statues]
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Fig 14- Landscape guiding the entry [Mutiara Seputeh, Kuala Lumpur]
Fig 12-Transition of the street and residence in Ahmedabad.
Fig 13- Door of a house. [AhmedabadBhadra Fort2]
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Entrances in architecture are definitely the mediums to lead us inside of a simple residence, huge building complexes or even cities and countries when we talk at the larger scale. But this is not the whole story. Therefore, it is not only the puncture on the walls to let you inside like a door which is derived from the Latin word ‘fores’ or ‘forum’ which is in reference to the public space outside. Most doorways have this abrupt entrance from one space to another. Symbolically, a threshold marks the boundary between a household and the outer world, and hence between belonging and not-belonging, and between safety and danger. The idea that movement through a space will have psychological implications should really be more thoroughly attached to functions performed in them than the design of the space. It gives a sense of its surroundings and makes us wonder what’s inside. We can relate them with aesthetic, functional demands population it aspires to serve and also to the context of its placement.
It provides a prelude of what can be expected inside the building. In their functional, visual and symbolic routes, entrances constitute the essential architectural language through which a building can be read and interpreted. The position, proportion, material and decoration of openings give important clues to the building roles, status and historic context. What if you elongate the sensation of transition from one space to another? What if the threshold feels perpetual?
Fig 15- Separation of the building from the street.
When each building follows its own logic without respecting to its neighbor or its predecessors, the result narrows the gap between the picturesque, on the one hand and chaos on the other. The entrance has to be relevant to its context in terms of an element, in terms of its stylistic and symbolic expressions used and as a phenomenon. “A gateway can have many forms, a literal gate, and a bridge, a passage between narrowly separated buildings, an avenue of trees, and a gateway through a building. All of these have the same function; they mark the point where a path crosses a boundary and help maintain the boundary. All of these are the things not merely holes or gaps but solid entities. — Christopher Alexander in ‘A Pattern Language’. Entrance becomes a means of identity of a building is also an obvious means of creating a first impression at any level, be it the country, state, capital, city, town, or a village. From the ostentatious, entrances of the classic churches to the minimalist look in the modern movement, there has always been an attempt to provide an aura that lures the person towards the buildings and into it and in the process prepares the person to confront the activities within that ensemble.
Buildings housing commercial facilities like markets, cinemas etc. are some examples where the population size governs many things. In a commercial space where several activities take place simultaneously they make the visitor aware of - where, in which part of the building, they are going even at the most initial step towards it, which is an entrance based on demand authority. The distributed entries to the building from different points of the road, to different levels make the access to building possible with minimum concentration of the crowd at a single point on the street Entrance spaces of palace complexes need to show the grandeur and hence are located such that even without entering them, the aura can be felt all around. The entrance design can be based on the population type it aspires to serve.
the building never seems quite right. Entrances must be shaped so that they are clearly visible. Entering a building, a room within a building or a defined field of exterior space, involves the act of penetrating a vertical plane that distinguishes one space from another and separates here from there. The act of entry can be signified in more subtle ways than punching a hole in a wall. It may be a passage through an implied plane established by two pillars or an overhead beam. In situations where greater visual and spatial continuity between two spaces is desired and a change in a subtle level can establish a threshold and mark the passage from one place to another. Entrances can be grouped into the following categories: flush, projected and recessed. A flush entrance maintains the continuity of the surface of a
Fig 16- Entrance in context of its placement. City Center, Gurgaon.]
Fig 17 – The entrance provides an aura that lures the person towards the buildings and into it. [Rome - Entrance to the Piazza del Campidoglio.]
Placing the main entrance is perhaps the single most important step you take during the evolution of a building plan. When the entrance is placed correctly; the layout of the building unfolds naturally and simply. When the entrance is placed badly, the rest of
wall and can be, if desired, deliberately obscured. A projected entrance forms a transitional space, announces its function to the approach, and provides overhead shelter. A recessed entrance also provides shelter and receives a portion of exterior space into the
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Fig 18 - One can experience the interplay of confinement and spaciousness. A design ‘threshold’ is needed to ensure the quality of BSF (Building Schools for the Future) schools.
realm of the building. The form of the entrance can be similar to and serve as a preview of the form of the space being entered. Or it can be contrast with the form of the space to reinforce its boundaries and emphasize its character as a place. In terms of location, an entrance can be centered within the frontal plane of a building or be placed off-center to create a condition of local symmetry about its opening. The location of an entrance relative to the form of the space being entered will determine the configuration of the path and the pattern of the activities within the space. The notion of an entrance can be visually reinforced by— • Making the opening lower, wide or narrower than anticipated • Making the entrance deep or circuitous• Articulating the opening with
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ornamentation or decorative embellishment. These are surely not only the parts of a building which transport the people from exterior to the interior space but also the language the building speaks to portray its functional characters, its beauty, grandeur, its power, strength and magnificence.
tion, topography, landscape, then they should consider “Transition Spaces” as one of the aspects in building design.
- Pierre von Meiss, “Elements of Architecture from Form to Place”. - John Ormsber Simonds, “Landscape Architecture- A manual of site planning and design” - Dennis Sharp, “Twentieth Century Architecture- a visual history”. - www.wikipedia.org - www.architecture.mit.edu - www.arch.mcgill.ca
We transit so frequently that we are not even aware of the presence of the transition space. It is very interesting to know about it. We experience them from macro to micro levels. The idea of bringing forth this article is to draw the attention of designers even towards this aspect of detailing in architecture. The design considerations should include this space as a constraint. When architects talk about orientation of the building, built form, site organiza-
Kirti D. Bhonsle is an Architect & Planner based in Chandigarh. She is working as a visiting faculty in various Architecture Colleges & Interior Design Institutes in Chandigarh. Photograph: Courtesy the Author.