A great front door can either make a building inviting and intriguing or foreboding and intimidating. Internal doors are also crucial: the way they look, they way they open, the way they feel – are they heavy and solid or light and transparent – can all contribute to dramatically influencing our experience of the entire building. If you get your doors wrong, then sometimes it can mean the difference between a great building and a forgettable one.
This week we talk to Amos Goldreich, from Amos Goldreich Architecture, an architect who not only has one of the finest collections of architecture books you will ever see, but also has an unrivalled ability to remember almost every detail from every project they contain. He also happens to produce some great work of his own too.
As a designer and avid consumer of architectural imagery, Amos is perfectly placed to give some insight into the magic of this most ordinary of building components:
HC: Is there a particular door your remember most?
AG: It has to be the front door of the Case Study House number 25 by Killingsworth, Brady and Smith from 1962. They achieved this spectacular effect just by changing the scale of what is normally quite an ordinary and banal element. The first thing that strikes you about this door is its height, so not only do you know where you have to go to get in, but you also get a sense of the sheer scale of the interior space that awaits you.
HC: What example stands out in your mind of an unusual use of material for a door?
AG: This project is called The Invisible House – it’s a sunken house in London and the only entrance is through this brick wall. It’s genuine London stock brick – a really old, traditional and really quite unexceptional material that they have then incorporated into the face of the door in an extraordinary way. It’s clever, it blends in with its surroundings and it’s secure. It also makes you say, “Wow, how did they do that?” What more could you ask?
On the other hand, there are also these amazing and quite technically complicated composite materials that use different physical properties of diverse materials to create something very unexpected. In this example, marble has been cut so thin that light can pass straight through it. But without the honeycomb aluminium panel that is glued to it and which gives it its strength, it would never work. So here you have stone, a material that you usually associate with heaviness, strength and solidity, being used in a way that expresses lightness and translucency, almost like glass.
HC: Are door handles something architects have any business designing?
AG: Well, there are only a few architects that have even had the luxury of being able to design these objects and it’s often hit and miss as to whether you can say that they are successful. I worked for a very well known architect many years ago who was commissioned by an equally well known Italian company to design a lever door handle. I was lucky enough to work on the project and I must admit that whilst what resulted was no doubt beautiful as an object, it was pretty useless as a door handle.
Here is an example of where I think handles designed by architects can work best: on one level it’s just a basic push or pull handle but it is very obviously of the same language as the door rather than a piece of mass-produced industrial design that has just been stuck on. It works and it adds something to the door that goes beyond the caché that you might get from having a doorknob that is designed by someone famous.
For internal doors, where you may be obliged to have lever handles and where there may be more of a temptation to go “designer”, I think you can get a great result without spending £400 per handle. As long as the lines are simple, the handle feels solid in your hand, it works well and is reliable, I’m not sure that you need much more. Of course, ultimately you give the client the choice, and if they want them, you can find them (see this link) but if you ask me, I would go with the good quality, no-name brand every time and the money you save can be put to much better effect elsewhere (see this link).
For example, for even less money than it costs for one of these designer knobs, you could make all your internal doors taller than standard. All the doors that I include in the interiors of my projects are at least 2.3m high as opposed to the 2.05m standard. Maybe it’s because I’m so tall that I always bump my head on standard doors, but I think that it’s such a small change from the norm and yet the extra height creates quite a spectacle, not just visually, but also physically when you pass through it.
HC: In the UK, planning laws make it almost impossible to alter the street-front of many existing buildings. This means that whilst the front facades remain unchanged, the interiors and rear elevations have become the focus of refurbishment and extension projects. Are we living in a world where the clash between the new and the old is also a conversation between the back door and the front door? Are we becoming a nation of back-side architects?
AG: It is true that quite often with London or UK projects you never even see images published of the front of the buildings. But I think there is something quite special about approaching an old Victorian or Georgian façade and then stepping over the threshold, and finding yourself in another world, one of very contemporary design. If you do want to challenge that external character, then you can introduce small clues, like door numbers in a contemporary font, that do not risk being controversial but which give an inkling of what is to come.
It’s ironic that in the Victorian and Georgian eras, the front façade was what was used to express your wealth and status and now, because the front is invariably protected, it is the backsides of buildings that have become the means by which architects express their talents and owners express their patronage.
The result is that there is definitely a kind of architectural arms race going on to see who can come up with the most incredible feats of engineering in pursuit of having the most uninterrupted views possible and the trend is being lead by companies such as Vitrocsa and panorama and architects like David Mikhail. In a funny kind of way, it brings us back full circle to projects like the Case Study Houses where engineering was also very the means by which new and exciting things were possible.
HC: Any final words before we close the door on “doors”?
AG: I read this great quote by Dutch architect Aldo van Eyck:
“A door is a place made for an occasion.”
I think that really sums up what I feel: doors are places where you meet your friends before you invite them into your home or where you say hello to strangers, or where you bump into your family as they go about their daily business. They represent the threshold between where we feel safe and where we feel exposed and ultimately they provide a means for us to engage with both - they should be celebrated!
Architect Amos Goldreich was talking to Ryan von Ruben for Harris Calnan