Transition Spaces: Energy Efficient Building Design

December 22, 2022

Transition spaces have long been used in prehistoric architecture and their ubiquity has been confirmed by ancient Mesopotamia and the Mohenjodaro and Harappa civilizations. These spaces provide opportunities for spontaneous interaction between subjects and offer protection from the elements. They are also important for health and sustainability. Using these types of spaces can improve energy efficiency in buildings.

A transition space is a place between two larger spaces. It can be a public or private space. This type of space can be open or closed, depending on user requirements. The function of a transition space may vary, but it is a necessary part of architectural design.

The best way to determine the functionality of a transition space is to consider the characteristics of the building or site. In particular, the physical location and topography will affect the climatic demands of the area. For example, extreme heat or cold can lead to a loss of energy, or a decrease in direct and diffused radiations on the facade.


Another important feature of a transition space is its ability to facilitate a smooth transition from one area to another. A simple example is a footbridge which crosses a shallow ditch fed by a river. While crossing this bridge, people can become involved in nature, which could help reduce stress.

Example 1 of a transition space.

Example 2 of a transition space.

Example 3 of a transition space.

A transition space is usually a place that is between two well defined areas. It can also be a space that is disused, abandoned, or merely a space of indeterminacy. Unlike a lobbie or foyer, a transition space is not defined by a set of rules. Depending on the context, it might serve as a temporary space, a gathering place, or a social event.

Transition spaces are also helpful for reducing the amount of energy consumed by heating and cooling systems. For example, in Delhi, the summer months can see temperatures of 45 deg.C, making it challenging to find a comfortable temperature inside a home. Similarly, transitional spaces are vital for emergency exit routes and circulation pathways within buildings. If a building doesn't have a transition space, it can be difficult to achieve optimal energy efficiency.

There are many types of transition spaces, but they can be grouped into three categories. These are the gateway or entry space, the liminal space, and the transitional space. Each is a different and worthy of its own mention.

The gateway or entry space is a symbolic space of welcome and auspice. It can be an inward looking space akin to a foyer, or an outer receptive space like a fort wall. Entrances are often designed with a hierarchical sequence of spatial layers.

A liminal space is the threshold between two dissimilar spaces, and can be a transformational experience for occupants. Other notable examples are a fort wall, a staircase, a courtyard, and a veranda.

Lastly, the transitional space is a critical component of urban planning. This type of space helps reduce energy costs, regulate airflow, and maintain the comfort levels of inhabitants. When designing a transition space, consider the needs of users, as this can affect their perceptions of the built-in experience.

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I enjoy designing and curating experiences both virtually and in 3-dimensional reality. I have a Bachelor of Architecture from the Illinois Institute of Technology and currently practice professionally, but I also manage a few other ventures.
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