Making an entrance better by design

The debate of form and function has long been raging in architecture. Here we speak to Kaz Spiewakowski, managing director of GEZE UK, about whether aesthetics and function are mutually exclusive when it comes to making an entrance.

Entrances and doors perform a functional role in architecture. They allow people to move seamlessly from one part of a building to another; help maintain an even temperature and form part of natural ventilation systems; aid accessibility; and contribute to safety and security. At the same time, the aesthetics of architecture should never ‘stop at the door’. An entrance sets the tone for a building’s interior; blends seamlessly with the design and wider materials; and makes an impact.

Glass remains one of the most popular materials in modern architecture. Its elegance allows for contemporary minimalist design, where vast expanses stretch along the line of sight. An entrance should therefore be designed with the overall style in mind. Get it right and the results are stunning; get it wrong and it can ruin everything the architect strove to create.

Careful consideration should be given to operators from the very outset. Where automatic sliding operators are used, they are usually mounted on the transom, but can be bolted directly onto glass when desired. In some specifications there are glass systems that allow the profile and fittings to be integrated invisibly between the panes so there are no bulky or visible elements on the surface. Lobbies are often used to enhance a building’s sustainability, but while performing a vital function, it doesn’t mean they have to be boring. Circular or elliptical automatic entrances look visually stunning and maximise space, and staggered entrances allow large numbers of people to flow through the entrance at any one time, while still minimising heat loss.

Where traditional elegance is required, revolving doors, both manual and automatic, remain a popular choice. They provide a high degree of insulation against the elements, saving energy and ensuring a pleasant, uniform climate within. However, pass doors may also be needed for accessibility.

In the retail sector, businesses in shopping centres want to create large expansive entrances suitable for high traffic areas. Glass sliding walls provide the perfect solution. By day, they can be opened fully, allowing the public to enter or can be partially opened to divide space and direct shoppers around certain routes. By night, they are fully lockable giving utmost security. By contrast, in buildings where space is limited but maximum accessibility is required, folding doors can be used because they don’t require the space on either side of the entrance like sliding doors, or the depth in the corridor needed for hinged swing doors.

Of course, not every building is a new build. When refurbishing a property that is listed or of historical significance, aesthetics are perhaps more important than ever. Care should be made to preserve and respect historical features, while ensuring doors and entrances meet the full demands of modern life. In many cases this is achieved through subtlety of design. Automatic operators have reduced significantly in size and the slimmest drive on the market is just 7cm tall, meaning it can easily be incorporated within a facade.

Another alternative is to use an underfloor operator (UFO) which is fitted beneath the floor ensuring the operators do not detract from the overall design. UFOs are housed within a sealed stainless steel enclosure mounted below finished floor level.

Although not specifically aimed at doors, the Equality Act 2010 requires service providers to make reasonable adjustments to overcome barriers experienced by disabled people. Automation is a powerful tool in both functionality and aesthetics. It allows very large and heavy doors to be opened with ease, aids accessibility and allows large numbers of people to enter or exit a building ‘en masse’.

Internally, different closers may be required for different parts of building – for security, swipe cards may be required to restrict access, fire doors on escape routes, manual closers in some areas and automatics in others. Some manufacturers design their closers so they have a consistent style across the range, while different cover shapes and finishes can be specified to match closers with other architectural ironmongery used throughout a project. Patch fittings have also evolved to be stylish, unobtrusive and to suit various thicknesses of toughened glass.

Of course, as the MD of a door control system manufacturer, I will always consider doors the most important – and beautiful – element of a building! However, architects and specifiers need to look at the bigger picture and working with manufacturers will ensure they select the right door control technology to achieve their aesthetic vision.