We pass through doors every day. While this architectural element might be an afterthought for some, the door has played a major role in architecture throughout history. This role continues today as we develop new design ideas for the average door.
The History of Doors
The actual invention of doors has long been lost to history. We know that the first record of a door was in ancient Egypt 4000 years ago. It’s easy to imagine that homes long before this were putting hides or textiles over the opening of the dwelling.
The solid door as we know it today was probably invented in ancient Egypt when architecture started to become more advanced. These early doors were saved for important architecture and were mostly wood before migrating to stone or bronze. They were a simple design with pivots on top and bottom.
The Romans took the door and advanced the design. These Roman doors, which were typically made out of bronze, were designed as single, double, sliding, and folding doors. Most Roman doors were designed with pivots fitted into sockets in the threshold and lintel.
Over the following years the designs of door continued to change. In the Middle Ages, wood again became the primary material for doors. These doors were vertical planks backed with bracing. This bracing was strengthened with long iron hinges and secured with nails.
After this, the style of doors moved from the Tuscan style doors during the renaissance to the Georgian style door in the 17th century. At the end of the 17th century and through the 18th century, we see door styles that focused on the paneling that we see in many doors today.
We currently view doors with a very narrow mind. The standard door size – 3 feet wide by 7 feet tall – was designed around the average proportions of humans.
These standard doors do their job well. They keep a space warm, protect the privacy of a space when needed, and allow the inhabitants to pass through to other spaces. But they can sometimes detract from the architecture when doors could be used to enhance a design.
Architect Eric Reinholdt, founder of 30X40 Design Workshop, encourages architects to change their thinking about doors. He stresses that “thinking about them as wall elements that can pivot or slide creates a myriad of design possibilities.” Doors can serve as more than just a functional element.
In his video essay on the architectural design of doors, he showcases doors that take up the entire wall. These massive, wall to ceiling, doors make the entry way feel special and secret.
Some of the example doors he shows take up the entire width of a hallway. This helps to better link the two spaces on either side of the door. The scale also marks the entryway as an important one.
Changing Forms and Functions
Small, low effort changes to doors can complete change their function and their form – from simple entryways to so much more.
In New South Wales, Australia, a residential home for dementia patients experimented with adding a unique poster to each patient’s door. Every poster was designed to look like a unique door with bright bold colors and architectural features, like brass doorknockers, letterboxes, and door guards.
The new door design helped reduce persistent walking, eloping behaviors, and spatial disorientation in the patients with Alzheimer’s. Clearly the new doors are more than just a portal from one place to another.