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International Journal on Engineering Performance-Based Fire Codes, Volume 5, Number 4, p.

131-137, 2003


W.Y. Hung
Department of Building Services Engineering, The Hong Kong Polytechnic University, Hong Kong, China


Buildings with atrium can be found everywhere in big cities among which Hong Kong is one of the examples.
The evolution of this building type should be traced back to explore the reason why it has been a popular design
throughout these years. It was found originated about two hundred years ago, with changes in terms of
configurations and functions occurred. After centuries of development, benefits and detriments of atrium could
be clearly identified in architectural, environmental and economic aspects respectively, which are discussed in
this paper. To get around the demerits brought about by the atrium design in new projects, some design
considerations are proposed to be taken into account. Some of the famous local atrium buildings are reviewed to
give a clearer picture on the application and design of the building feature. Other than the problems of those
aspects mentioned above, fire safety problem is more serious comparatively since human life is involved. The
potential fire hazards are discussed. According to local fire codes, atrium buildings are usually installed with
sprinkler systems which are used to protect in a wide range of building types. However, with the unique
characteristics of large internal open space and high headroom, sprinkler systems can give certain adverse
effects where further considerations are essential to ensure fire safety and safeguard occupants lives.

Keywords: atrium, energy conservation, fire safety, daylight, thermal comfort

untreated. Focus was
The most concern moved inward in this
1. INTRODUCTION regarding to atrium is respect. Social qualities
the potential fire enhanced by this design
Atria are at a high frequency being used in the large- hazards. The open became the reason for its
further development. In
scale building, say retail shopping malls and huge feature of an atrium has
the literature appeared
office premises. As reviewed [1], it is an extraordinary made up of a clear,
later, atrium was
building feature other than the common slab-by- slab unobstructed path for
defined as a tall indoor
design, where floor slabs on several stories are cut spreading of flame and
open space, with part of
through in the middle so that a void connecting those hot smoke when a fire
it connected to the
stories could be created. With this specific feature, occurs nearby the
outside environment [3].
atrium building is considered carrying some special atrium. The affected
characteristics which appeal building designers and areas are therefore In the 19th century [4],
owners attention so that the frequency of application is substantially expanded the first atrium came
rather high and there is a trend of increasing. and thus more people into use in western
are put at stake. countries. Atrium
The beneficial points identified will be presented in Appropriate fire erected of glass and steel
terms of architectural aspects, environmental aspects protection systems integrated with passive
and economic aspects, on the other hand, the inherentshould be installed with solar heating was
detrimental issues aroused could not be neglected. For attentive design emerged, one of them
example, atrium made up of glass panes could introduceconsiderations in could be Crystal Palace
natural lighting which is believed able to create a more advance; otherwise, [2] by Joseph Paxton. It
pleasant internal environment than artificial lighting. In human life and property gave rise to the
addition, by integration of daylight into electrical safety could not be development history of
lighting, energy consumption can be reduced to a large assured. the large glass
extent, especially for office buildings. However, solar enclosures which was
heat gain through the large glazed area would be The foremost use of influential to the
increased at the same time. Cooling load has to be atrium could be traced nowadays appearance of
increased in order to avoid overheating. The conflicts back in Roman house in atrium. Later in that
between merits and demerits of atrium building become a layout composed by a century, natural lighting
one of the challenges the building designers andgrand entrance space, a was deliberately utilized
architects confront. focal courtyard and a to light up the interior
sheltered semi-public street with shops [2]. In
area [2]. Occupants had the next century, sky-lit
to walk past the internal space became
courtyard to get in and main focus by some of
out and simultaneously the architects [2].
faade was left Usually it was designed
with a central focal
International Journal on Engineering Performance-Based Fire Codes
consumption area is
by artificial expected to
space. Otherlighting and happen.
interesting cooling load. Generally
development included speaking,
atrium stacked on atrium can be a
each others, atrium2. ARCHI means to tie up
not open to the sky TECT the whole city
and atrium located on and act as a
the upper levels of the URAL focal centre.
buildings. ASPEC
Once the area
TS OF be revitalized
One representing the
modern atrium called ATRIU and incited,
Hyatt Regency Hotel M with the open
appeared in 1968, internal
designed by John
BUILD environment,
Portman [2] who was INGS human
intended to provide a interaction
socially stimulatingFrom could be
environment for thisarchitectural promoted.
building. Areas forpoint of view, Sheltered space
sightseeing andit generates a with
catering are providednumber of amusement, say
around the coveredpossibilities to galleries and
central courtyard. Iturban design. exhibitions right
became so popularSome odd sites at the atrium,
since it successfullycould be dealt and dining area
introduced with easily by adjacent to
atmosphere ofinserting the atrium, could
entertainment and aatrium into it provide a place
pleasant spirit whichas any creative for gathering.
had never been foundshape could be Human
in the traditionalgenerated by interaction can
building atrium. be therefore
Designers afterwards stimulated. The
applied the concept ofAs mentioned effect of social
Hyatt Hotel toabove, atrium quality could be
shopping mall designscan also be dramatic in this
which could beused as a tool respect as
envisaged as theto revitalize the evidenced by
ancestor of the retailhistorical the
shopping mallsbuildings by
nowadays. attaching it
onto the old
Some energy-premises. By
conscious designersputting a roof
used atria as a deviceon several
for energy-efficiencyadjacent
control since theybuildings,
were aware of theunification can
abuse of energy andbe achieved.
the damage to theDemolishment
natural environmentis therefore not
by emitting excessivethe only means
harmful gases. Sinceto manage
then, atrium designthese kinds of
became anstructure.
method to get betterAnother
thermal comfort byinnovative idea
using less energy. Byis to build an
watchful atrium in the
considerations, it wasarea requiring
believed to be able toredevelopment.
reduce energyRevival of the
both internal mainly on
popularity of Hyatt and external electric
Regency Hotel where space of a lighting [6]
the intimate and building. Their though lighting
relaxing atmosphere design should efficiency has
created deliberately encourage risen up
was welcomed by the users gradually. In
occupants. appreciation on fact,
the exterior as illumination
It can also act as a well. The level on a
cultural centre by faade, working plane
holding activities interface in an office
such as musical between the two should be of
performances, spaces, should 300 to 500 lux,
exhibitions and match with its where large
shows. The open own interior amount of
space not only offers space and artificial
lighting might
spatial quality but contribute to the
be required. To
also visual public.
save energy as
connection to all
well as
activities taking place
around the atrium. 3. ENVIR
visual comfort,
Moreover, ONME atrium is an
comprehensibility to NTAL effective way
all the ways and areas
ASPEC where the
in different floors can transparent
be achieved. TS OF
enclosure with
Nevertheless, the
M transmittance
excessive attention
paid onto the internal
BUILDI can easily
NGS introduce
built environment may
daylight into
more or less distract
the internal
that for the outside Environmental
areas. When
environment [5]. aspects are
significant on compared with
Entertaining elements
the the traditional
are preferred to place
slab-by slab
inside the covered contribution of
space by the building atrium design, the
designers. It may lead building, other proportion of
to disregard to the than the
building elevations or architectural
available to the
mismatch with the aspects. Of the internal areas
internal space. People glazed would be
are then discouraged enclosure, increased
to go outside. As atrium can
regarding, these sort of usually bring as shown in
inverted atria along the
Fig. 1.
become thermal
Integration of
disadvantageous to the comfort and
daylight and
urban city. daylight which
are essential to
lighting is
Disregarding the minimize believed the
outside world of an consumption most efficient
atrium building due to of way to meet
excessive attention unrenewable the
paid on the interior energy. requirement of
would be an undesired the
situation to the urban Office towers illuminance
area. Building have their
needed for the
designers have to carry energy
work place and
the responsibility to consumption energy saving.
International Journal on Engineering Performance-Based Fire Codes
hand, heat
transfer also mass transfer
Configurations oftakes place induced by
atrium can be classifiedbetween atrium temperature
as four types includingspace and the differential
centralized, semi-adjacent main between cooler
enclosed, attached andbuilding area. atrium and
linear as shown in Fig.By increasing warmer
2. The various formsthe glazing building in
and orientations haveareas in the winter and
substantially differentinternal surface warmer atrium
thermal performance.of the atrium, and cooler
Atrium located insideair temperature building in
the buildings, such asin atrium would summer
centralized and linearbe slightly respectively.
ones would give aincreased in Undesired
more steadywinter whilst situations
temperature; that in adjacent could be
effectively decrease thebuilding would diminished by
fluctuation ofbe increased in varying the
temperature [7].summer. This transparent
Therefore, doublephenomenon area according
benefits of thermaloccurs due to to the heat gain
comfort and daylightheat and received by the
could be attained. The atrium internal
principle of providing surface.
thermal comfort Shading device
through atrium had and putting
been studied [4]. It was glazed area at
found that heat loss of lower levels
the adjacent buildings can be
could be reduced by considered for
glass canopies roofing this purpose
the top in between [8].
buildings. In winter,
solar heat was stored Excessive area
on the external walls of of glass would
the buildings and the trap the heat
pavement, and lost once it passed
gradually to the through glass
covered walkway when panes because
the temperature at the it is transparent
walkway was lowered, to short-wave
say at night. The delay solar radiation
of heat loss to the while opaque
surrounding was to long-wave
termed buffer effect. radiation [9].
In summer,
In this respect, the atrium
application of glazed temperature
materials at the atrium would be
would make the increased due
temperature of the to this
atrium higher than the phenomenon.
ambient throughout the Mechanical
year. For cool climate air-
area or winter time, it conditioning
is so beneficial that the system is
heating load can be therefore relied
reduced. However, it on to maintain
may be problematic to the internal
the warm and hot thermal
climate area and in the comfort.
summertime, However, air
overheating may be temperature in
occurred. On the other atrium would
be decreased in winter Just like the
as outside temperatureAtrium can be integration of
is lower than that ofacted as a solar daylight and
inside [7]. Highercollector and artificial
heating load isdistributor, lighting, solar
necessary. Therefore,when spaces heat gain
it is of ultimateplaced round it. collected
importance toIt is also able should be also
determine theto give shade used
optimum amount ofand store heat intelligently
glazing for passivewith with an
solar heating andappropriate optimum air-
impediment on heatorientations handling
loss. Prevention onand strategy.
glare should be alsoconfigurations.
taken into account.

Fig. 2:
Fig. 1: types
Availability of
of daylight atria
International Journal on Engineering Performance-Based Fire Codes
As reviewed, shopping
Location of an atriumcapital cost of malls, office
is a function of thean atrium buildings and
climate it has to stand.building was some of the
To get the maximumestimated mixed-use
daylight, atrium openlower than the development
to the sky on the topconventional have exploited
is the most effectivebuilding by the atrium
design. However,using less concept.
overheating inconstruction Investment
summertime shouldelements, return is
be aware. It isfewer elevators accompanied
recommended a roof-and staircases, by using some
light shaded fromshorter space for
high-angle solarconstruction retailing shops
radiation and certaintime and hence or restaurants
amount of reflectedsmaller which attract
lighting is suitable forinfluence by more users and
premises in warmerinflation. In shoppers.
climate. On the otheraddition, Social quality
hand, and equator-investment and human
facing glazed wall canvalue and interaction are
be used to collect lowrevenue cost important
angle solar radiationare the major elements to
in cool temperateappeals to the stimulate the
climate. Buildings indevelopers [4]. popularity of
tropical region at the building.
lower latitudes canEnergy cost
construct polar-could be Apart from
oriented walls so thatreduced from that, limitation
they can collectone- third to of size of a
skylight withoutone-half of that building due to
undesired solar heatfor ordinary urban planning
gain. East- and west-buildings. It would leave a
facing would be neversounds challenge to
recommended sinceattractive to the the designers.
their low anglebuilding However,
sunlight is difficult toowners as well atrium can give
avoid. as the end a better plot
users. As ratio [10]
Some small elements,mentioned, it is
which in turn
like landscaping,able to lessen
higher profit
internal finishes andenergy used on
could be
light shelves, shouldproviding
be paid attentionelectric
when working on thelighting by
building designintegrating
because they are ablenatural lighting
to reflect and diffusein a thoughtful
lighting into theatrium design
interior. Shadingwhere thermal
devices, such ascomfort should
louvers, blinds,be also
retractable roof andconsidered
low-E glass could betogether to
applied to preventbalance the
glares andavailable
overheating of thedaylight and
occupied spaces. heat loss.

Since the
4. ECONOMIC success
ASPECTS OFaccomplished
ATRIUM in Hyatt
1 Daylight er has no
Some drawbacks was internal
should also be taken attempte column
into consideration in d to but
future designs. For provide supporte
example, it is not fit into the d by the
into a small site. And deep- building
atrium area could not plan of envelope
be fully utilized since Hong . An
it cannot attract long- Kong ingeniou
term tenants, other Bank s steel
than those short-term Headqua and
renting for rter at concrete
performance shows or the megastru
exhibitions. Net/gross beginnin cture is
area efficiencies are g of the composi
lowered by the long design ng one
corridors surrounding process. loadbeari
the atrium [11]. It Finally, ng and
results in the one
discouragement to project wind-
small tenants. ended resisting
up with structura
Site limitation a 10- l system,
hindering building story all the
construction seems high loads of
hard be dealt with. atrium the
More savings on in the building
energy cost by an centre of are being
environmental- the channell
responsive design building ed to the
could be used to , being four
cover the excessive underne reinforce
expenditure in the ath d
construction. office concrete
floors corner
but not columns
5. LOCAL open to finally.
EXAMPLES the sky. Not only
A can an
As a metropolis, there sunsco unobstru
are over hundreds of op cted
atrium buildings device open
standing next to the was space be
well-known harbor in utilized created,
our city within the to direct the
last two decades. It is daylight resistant
welcomed by the into the capabilit
developers because interior y to
on top of the building wind
advantages discussed [12,13]. loading
earlier, it not only can also
satisfies the permitted2 Bank of be
plot ratio, but it also China reinforce
creates dramatic Tower d by the
indoor public spaces [14], structure
for social functions. designed . Using
They can be seen in in the less
banks, hotels, 1980s, is structura
commercial buildings the third l
and shopping malls. tallest elements
building resulted
Some of the famous in Hong in
buildings constructed Kong. dramatic
with an atrium are This 70- reductio
story n in
skyscrap construct
ion time and story high
use of materials high sloped
[14]. The atrium skylight.
vertical void that ends Natural
inside the tower with a 8-
creates a 17- story
International Journal on Engineering Performance-Based Fire Codes
artificial be -20C, and
lighting indoor
light filters into [15]. temperature
the interior 18C. Air draft
spaces throughIt is found that due to hot
the heat-natural glazed roof
reflective glassventilation is might not be
curtain-wall not commonly welcome.
mounted ontoapplied. It is
the entiremost likely Moreover, air
building resulted from pollution
surface. Thisthe dense urban would
specific glassenvironment in discourage the
is used towhich introduction of
maximize buildings are outdoor air
natural lightingclosed spaced without
while cuttingand wind- specific
off theinduced flow is treatment. As a
undesired heatnot significant. result, only
gain which willAnother driven natural lighting
lead to anforce of natural is relied on in
increase inventilation, an atrium
cooling load. stack effect, is building where
not large mechanical
1 Another enough under ventilation is
excellent builtour climatic essential.
project Theconditions too.
Palace Mall as
shown in is aBy comparing 6. FIRE
grand stack effect SAFET
underground with some Y
retail complextemperate
with a glasscountries, say Atrium is not
entrance hallCanada, it can specified as
on the groundbe illustrated one of special
level. It is thethe building type
foremost insignificance
in local code
shopping mallof stack effect
where fire
buried in thein local area.
ground inTemperature
Hong Kong. Adifference
are prescribed
double-story between
by building
atrium space isinternal and
type [16]
located external air is
underneath thenot so high. though special
glass houseWinter fire hazards
and so daylighttemperature of could be
can penetrate5C brought about.
the glass halland Instead, the
and reach thetemperature of requirements
atrium and the18C on it are
nearby dependent on
give a stack
shopping its building
arcade. use, say office
difference of
However, the17 Pa for a building or
atrium isvertical height hotel.
attached to onedifference of However, one
side of the30 could imagine
m. In
whole the great
Canada, for the
shopping mallsame 30 m diversity
and thus thehigh building, between an
opposite side isstack pressure office
unable to enjoy
might be 54 Pa
lighting. It can
as temperature
only rely on
outside might
compartmentati e
premise with andon sizes. As at
without atrium, theregarding, the
same fire safetyatrium is often atri
requirements areused as a social um
definitely inadequatearea where flo
for the former. In this occupant load or
case, engineeringshould be
approach is allowedconsiderable.
by the jurisdictionThe rapid
authority at presentspreading of
time thatheat and toxic
performance-based gases can cause
fire codes are stilllife losses,
under development inhuman injuries
local area. and property
The openness of atriumAmong which,
could successfullyhuman life loss
create spatial qualityis usually
which encouragescaused by
human interaction.inhalation of hot
However, fire hazardssmoke [17].
are accompanying with (b
this characteristic. The )
void spanning several Fi
stories would become re
an effective channel for at
the spread of smoke ad
and hot gases in case of ja
a fire, as illustrated in ce
Fig. 3. Smoke and nt
flame are stopped sh
spreading by the o
compartmentation ps
walls which are
specified in the local
codes. It is envisaged Fig. 3: Fire and smoke
as an effective means spreading
for this purpose in the through
traditional building the atrium
with small
International Journal on Engineering Performance-Based Fire Codes
shutter. Upon be well-trained
installation at in taking
Since the ease of each level, appropriate
smoke spreading, it is they can action in an
of ultimate importance effectively accidental fire
to limit the fire load at isolate the [22]. Say,
the spaces nearby atrium space giving
atrium before and each floor, shoppers
appropriate fire performing correct
engineering system is like guidance to
installed. Usually, as a compartmentat reach
focal centre a wide ion walls in a appropriate
variety of functions temporary escape routes
would be held at the manner. Smoke in case of fire
atrium space, such as extraction is extremely
catering or an system and important
exhibition. Fire load depressurizatio since they are
density will be varied n of atrium not familiar
from time to time so space would be with the
that it requires for high other environment.
degree of caution alternatives. Fire safety
when examining the management
application of short- Staircase has to be
term tenants. With pressurization worked out
different events held at system is with particular
the atrium, occupant useful in cautions since
load nearby is not maintaining a it can still have
fixed either that the clear escape dramatic effect
evacuation pattern route. When it even though
should be carefully is operated, the installed
worked out. It falls on pressure in the fire services
one of the important shaft of systems are
parts in fire safety staircase is not working
management [18]. maintained at a properly.
level higher
Fire servicesthan that in
installation (FSI),atrium or other
such as fire detection,occupied space
sprinkler system andby
hydrant/hose reelmechanically
systems, should besupplying large
installed as specified,quantity of air
but the efficiency ofas shown in
them to control fireFig. 4. In light
cannot be assured.of this, smoke
After 1987, sprinklerin fire
systems are requiredcompartment
to install in a wideof low pressure
variety of buildingwould not
occupancies asmove towards
specified in the FSIthe escape
Code [19]. route of high
pressure. Air
Spread of smoke is curtain can be
appeared as the most applied for
significant issue in an smoke control
atrium that asks for a in atrium as
good smoke well [21].
management plan
[17,20]. Fire safety Fire safety
measures, other than management
sprinkler system, also plays a
could be installed for key role. Fire
this special building safety persons
type, say smoke and security
curtain and fire guards should
in construction and W.K.
industry. Chow, A
Atrium could review on
become one of architectur
the green al aspects
of atrium
designs with
proper daylight Architectur
and thermal al Science
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The most 2. C. Kent,

important to be Inside the
Fig. 4: pointed out is livable
Staircase the inherent fire city: The
pressuriz safety problems. atrium,
ation As discussed, Inland
following Architect,
existing Vol. 33,
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code do not 3. Amenity
Beneficial points necessarily space for
contributed by atrium ensure fire interaction:
buildings and the safety of atrium Yamashita
interests of the building. Even Sekkei:
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continuous use of the available works,
atrium concept in the elsewhere Process
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