Elements of buildings can sometimes be mistaken to be simple technical constructions, performing precise functions to satisfy particular requirements. Take the simple doorway, for example. Boiled down to its essentials, the doorway is a simple tool to permit or restrict access to a room, building or neighbourhood. However, doorways are also deeply symbolic and rich with meaning, and represent much more culturally. Consider briefly the door threshold - the significance of crossing this into a friend or strangers house, and the meaning we imbue on this in our culture, for example in the practice of a groom carrying his bride over the door threshold for good luck.
We describe other phenomena as doorways, even when they are not physical. Culture, for example, is often described as providing a doorway to other worlds. Our colleague Eamon McGarrigle spoke of the alternative culture of the 1980s – the music of the KLF, Joy Division, the films of David Lynch and the writings of Carl Sagan and cartoons of Hergé. To Eamon, these provided a window into a world beyond the sights around him growing up in the 1980s, providing a broader horizon and view of what was out there, and what was possible.
Take a specific architectural example, the domestic front door. Despite their unassuming appearance and ubiquity, these elements are rich with architectural symbolism. Often overlooked, there is a keen link between front doors and analogies of the sun, thought to result from the historic practice of orienting temples and other places of worship towards the east to catch the rising sunlight. This is manifest today in commonly encountered door elements such as fanlights with sunrays metaphorically radiating out from the doorway, brass door ironmongery providing a visual connection to the warmth of the suns rays.
Now zoom out to the scale of the city. Many cities, of course, historically had gateways to permit and restrict access between the city, its hinterland and the area beyond. Generally removed now, some cities have retained these, Derry being such an example. No longer serving a function to manage the flow of people and goods into and out of the city, they now perform other functions, providing orientating points and dramatising the movement through the city, loosely defining territory within it. The door or gate, of course, cannot be considered without also thinking of the walls in which they sit, an additional apparatus of permission or control within these culturally significant elements.
One of the ways in which we can learn how to create good front doors is to study examples where this has been achieved, such as St Brides Church in East Kilbride, by Gillespie, Kidd and Coia. The entrance starts long before the building, in the piazza outside with its sunburst motif in brick pavers, each ray drawing you in towards the entrance. The front door isn’t visible on the approach, yet there is no mistaking the entrance to the building. The brick wall of the church peels back like a curtain, enticing the visitor to come closer and to see what is inside. This and buildings like it are a touchstone for us whenever we are thinking of how to create a good front door.