Grand Openings: 7 Monumental Doors and Movable Walls

When it comes to doors, good things sometimes come in big packages.

Sheila Kim Sheila Kim

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Whether the main entrance to a building or an interior door between rooms, thoughtful openings can really set a tone for the spaces on either side of them as well as enhance access, functionality, and aesthetics. Furthermore, when one plays with scale and the manner in which the door operates, one can create as truly memorable and grand openings as the architects of the following examples did.

If you’re thinking of employing large format doors in a project but unsure on the options available, look to the following case studies for inspiration. It goes to show that, at least sometimes, good things come in big packages:

The Pivot

Geneve-Cornavin rail station by IttenBrechbühl

For the renovation of the historic Geneve-Cornavin rail station in Switzerland, architecture firm IttenBrechbühl collaborated with local artist Carmen Perrin on a pair of monumental doors — each measuring a whopping 12 feet wide by 20.5 feet high — made of ductal concrete and glass.

Varied-size holes carved in the black concrete accommodate glass inserts, becoming porthole windows into the station’s historic lobby when the doors are shut. The dark sculptural surfaces at once offer an organic and out-of-this-world feel and beckon passersby and travelers toward and through the entrance.

Townhouse addition by Sculp[IT]Architects

Massive pivot doors are not only for commercial and institutional settings, however. They can make stunning and chic openings in residential settings, as well. When creating a modern extension at the back of a historic townhouse in Antwerp (also shown at top), Sculp[IT]Architects installed a pair of pivoting “windows” that open the home entirely to a private backyard garden for indoor-outdoor living.

The large format doors, 9.8 feet wide and 19.6 feet high, are custom units constructed of black-metal frames and insulated glass from Saint-Gobain. A matching glass transom window above the pair continues access to views and natural light for the addition’s setback third floor.

São Paulo house by Vasco Lopes Architecture

A double-height pivot door of a very different style is the main entrance to a house in São Paulo designed by Vasco Lopes Architecture. Standing 18 feet high, the bespoke door was designed to look substantial and heavy while remaining operable for homeowners.

Lopes devised a metal frame containing a vertical spine and three horizontal bars and, then, clad both sides in zigzag-cut wood pieces that create a ribbed door surface resembling slats. In lieu of a protruding handle, the architect omitted one wood bar from the design on both faces of the leaf — leaving a void to function as a recessed handle.

Brunner Furniture Showroom by McDowell+Benedetti

Seemingly delicate and weightless pivot doors can equally make a visual impact, as demonstrated by the Brunner Furniture Showroom in London’s Clerkenwell neighborhood. Designed by McDowell+Benedetti, the high-end showplace offers ample views of its wares as well as preserved brickwork and steel beams from the street via expansive storefront windows.

Continuing the uninterrupted sight-lines while highlighting the existing Victorian-era architecture, the architects inserted a nearly nine-foot-wide pivot door in the entranceway that has been finely engineered to open at the lightest touch. The bespoke system by Vitrocsa comprises a slim-profile frame of powder-coated galvanized steel and double-glazing of 10-millimeter and six-millimeter tempered glass.

Swinging and Sliding

Giraffe House by Monk Mackenzie and Glamuzina Paterson

Sometimes, a project calls for many openings of varying dimensions and configurations. In one structure used for breeding the tallest land mammal — the giraffe — firms Monk Mackenzie and Glamuzina Paterson opted for a series of traditional hinged and sliding barn doors in a well-thought-out arrangement. The Giraffe House at the Auckland Zoo is an oversized shed defined by intersecting rooflines that run from nine to 32 feet high. Human-height doors are integrated into 19-foot-high large format doors, allowing for the use of whichever door size is needed at a given time.

On the interior, a series of swing doors and movable walls reconfigure the two dens as well as keeper spaces — whether for observation, birthing, shelter, treatment, or interacting. A nearly 20-foot-high door between the shed’s two dens helps to gradually introduce two animals and is safely operated from the keeper area via a chain-and-pulley system. Because the Giraffe House had to be completed on a tight budget, the entire project utilizes the simple materials of steel and plywood in natural and black-stain finishes.

The Guillotine

OMA’s Garage Museum of Contemporary Art

A less common style that’s lately grabbing attention is the guillotine opening. Because it lifts straight up, it doesn’t take up a footprint or cover any part of the architecture — and it just plain looks cool. Case in point, OMA’s Garage Museum of Contemporary Art. This adaptive reuse of a derelict concrete pavilion in Moscow envelops the existing structure with a layer of glazing and a translucent skin of two polycarbonate layers, which house most of the building’s ventilation in order to free up space for exhibition use.

Within the polycarbonate portion, two massive wall sections raise to mark the entrances at either side of the rectangular museum as well as frame artwork installed in the lobby area. Because the ribbon of glazing remains in place while the guillotine sections are open, museum-goers can enjoy expanded views of surrounding Gorky Park without being exposed to the elements.

242 State Street by Olson Kundig Architects; photo by Bruce Damonte

Tom Kundig of Olson Kundig Architects not only implemented a guillotine opening in his 242 State Street project, he shared its inner workings with the public. This speculative building features a 10-by-16-foot “window” on its front façade that opens upward using a custom Rube Goldberg–like contraption comprising a foot pedal, hand-wheel, gears, pulleys, counterweights, wheels, and a cable — with some of these very conspicuously incorporated into the building exterior.

As the architect stated in his recent book Tom Kundig Works, “Part of my fascination with the gizmos is that they reintroduce manually operated systems into our daily lives. Our ancestors’ existence involved harnessing very simple engineering principles to make things work. Rather than using a motor, which has to be hooked into the grid, this mechanism relies on gravity and gearing.” Now that’s a grand opening — and a grand idea.

The judging process for the A+Product Awards is now away. Register to receive program updates, and stay tuned for winners announcements later this spring.  


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