The Elements of Transition and Threshold Spaces

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  1. Transition spaces are those spaces that are passed through in the journey to destination, some being the destination themselves.
  2. Threshold is a starting point or point at which something begins to take effect.
  3. Transitions and thresholds are spaces or points of change in a journey. They define our position in relation to where we have come from and where we are going.
  4. The experience and impact of a transition space is influenced by how it is revealed and how it relates to its surroundings.

It is believed that we, the observers are in a continuous dialogue with the space we are observing. All the elements in the space speak to us. The more dominant ones tend to speak first or we can say reveal first. This revelation creates interesting experience through a transition space, creating a better sense of journey and place. There are various ways in which spaces or elements in the space are revealed.

“Much of the delight of a place lies in how one gets to it.”2

2 Kevin Lynch, Site Planning, 3rd ed. (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1984), 329.

  1. It is therefore not wrong to say that it is the creation of journey, the transition space and the revealing of objects or elements both tangible and intangible, which generate stimulating experiences and enhance the sense of place.
  2. The spatial experience of a transition space is a series of various levels of containment and openness, shadow and light, level changes, facade rhythm and patterns and various other factors.

The elements

  1. Transition through spaces can also be looked at building level. We can experience transition spaces in a vehicle and other on foot. So one is vehicular experience and other is pedestrian experience. For a pedestrian it is the finer details that he experiences. He perceives all points of difference and change within the boundary very accurately, which he would tend to miss out while observing from inside a vehicle. The proportions and densities of buildings along the edge of the streets influence the experience of the journey along the street. There may be narrow streets with tall buildings on both the sides. There are other streets with buildings on one side and open areas on the other side. In both the cases the pedestrian experience is quite the opposite, one gives the feeling of containment while the other gives you the feeling of openness. The feeling of openness is enhanced when it comes after the feeling of containment or vice versa. These intangible feelings of containment and openness can be generated by many more ways. The designer only has to play with the volume of the transition space and the edges in order to generate these feelings. One must also realise that a space might not be open in true sense but it in relation to the space preceding it or space next in row can be considered open. This brings us to another aspect of a transition space which is they are often perceived in relation to space surrounding it.
  1. In order to understand transition spaces it is very important to understand thresholds. As previously mentioned thresholds are like points of change in a journey. A door in the wall is a threshold which connects two otherwise separate spaces. Some designers use different elements like small bridging elements to create thresholds. These thresholds enhance the sense of place by limiting the view of what is beyond and create anticipation. Some use thresholds to focus or draw attention towards a certain element in space. So in one place thresholds are used to conceal while in the other they are used to reveal.
  2. Thresholds for different buildings are designed differently. You will observe a toran with idols of gods and goddesses carved out in them in the thresholds of a hindu temple. Whereas you will observe a corbelled arch with a wooden door as a threshold in a house. Some thresholds are designed to represent the status of the building or the street.
  3. Since time immemorial the play of shadow and light have been used to create a rhythm within the street or even inside a building. Shadow of the buildings, trees, vehicles parked, people and other objects create a rhythm. You may observe that it is at these points where people pause before moving on to the next space. Just like shadow adds depth in a 2D painting, the play of shadow and light add life to any space. If the spell of shadow or light is large enough to become a potential space then designers create thresholds at the change from shadow to light and light to shadow.
  1. Other commonly experienced features are steps. They connect and separate spaces. They can create a sense of arrival. The positioning of the flights of stairs influences the experience of arrival. The stairs contained within the transition space defined by the buildings create a strong sense of separation.

Through splitting the flight into two the height of the flight is less daunting and a space is defined by the landing. The landing becomes a transition into the confined space and the steps at the end lead out of the space.

  1. People are a very important part of the experience.

Lynch, Kevin, 1967, The Image of the City, 3rd print, MA: MIT Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, and London, England.

“Moving elements in a city, and in particular the people and their activities, are as important as the stationary physical parts. We are not simply observers of this spectacle, but are ourselves a part of it, on the stage with the other participants.”

The sight of old people sitting and reading newspaper, children running around or playing games, women talking in the front yard and doing household chores are a common sight in societies. It is these people that add life to any space. A market place with people is more welcoming and pleasant than one without them. This does not mean that a place without people appears dead. Even without people the space is still alive. The seat and planting suggest a space that is used by the people who live there, the scooter parked in the street suggests that someone is home, the steps rising up to a door connect the street to the upper level. The windows looking over the street penetrate the mass of the buildings providing connection between inside and outside, a sense that someone could be watching.

The number of doors accessing a public space affects the security of the space. An apartment block serviced by only one access onto the street activates the space as long as there are people using the door, but when no one is coming or going a single door offers no indication of the number of people using it. Multiple doors indicate a larger number of people potentially using the space. The more doors that access a public space the greater the sense that people could emerge from the door, providing activation and security in the space. Nowadays people have started building boundary walls. They often have one main gate. The space outside the walls is activated only when people use that gate. You can visualise a school gate with lots of small children running out of the gate. The street in front is active only then. A boundary wall may be providing security to the people inside but it makes the space around very unsafe. At times the space within the boundary walls is also not safe. An easy solution to this problem of security is to increase the porosity in the walls. Many doors accessing a street work the same way.