Corridor Spaces – The history

Corridor Spaces – The history

“I love the long and soaked in light corridors. This narrow space created by only two walls seems to encompass a short journey that has a starting point and an arrival point within an interior. Sometimes an empty gallery and sometimes a connecting space to other rooms of the interior, while taking steps through it, it gives you the opportunity to experience the serenity.” – Architect Ledia Lazi

Office in Dublin, Ireland designed by Stephanie O'Sullivan of Henry J Lyons

Today, of course, corridors are so ubiquitous in our public buildings, and the word is casually used as metaphor, that one can hardly imagine that they played anything other than a relatively trivial part in the history of architecture.

The question before us is not only, What a corridor is, but also, How did the corridor come into the broader cultural parlance? As these preliminary sentence indicate, the answer is by no means as straight-forward as it might seem.

La Maison EviDenS de Beauté, designed by Emmanuelle Simon

In the fourteenth century, in both Spanish and Italian contexts, a corri dor referred not to a space but to a courier, someone who as the word’s Latin root suggests could run fast. A corridor might have been a scout sent behind enemy lines, a governmental messenger, a carrier of money, or even a negotiator arranging mercantile deals and marriages. He could also have served on the battlefield, sending reports between commanders and officers. This was the meaning of the word as used by Dante in the line, “Corridor vidi per la terra vostra”.

Gallery of San Joaquin Valley Residence - Aidlin Darling Design

The concept of the corridor in architecture has changed over time. In the 18th century in England, buildings had no corridors or only a limited number, no matter how big they were. The architect of Somerset House, William Chambers, defined corridors in his dictionary of architectural terms as an element of domestic architecture, no doubt creating the illusion—and to some degree the error—that corridors are primarily a feature of houses.
If corridors were being built in English-speaking countries in the late eighteenth century, they were in prisons. But even in that context they were considered a novelty.

In the 19th century England was reinforced by their image as dark and lonely, sometimes even haunted. Charlotte Brontë visualized them as places for restless souls; Charles Robert Maturin in Melmoth the Wanderer (1820) made them into places of spectral encounter; for Lord Byron they were convenient props for the romantic soul. “But glimmering through the dusky corridor,” he wrote in 1814 in The Corsair, “Another (lamp) chequers o’er the shadow’d floor.”

AMATAM studio

The corridor as a significant design element was to remain rare in France, even into the twentieth century. Beaux Arts architects held firm to the Palladian courtyard tradition. They consistently used words like galleries, colonnades, arcades, but never corridors. The absence of the term is significant. Whereas a corridor could have rooms on both sides and emphasizes speed and efficiency, a gallerie always had rooms on only one side and a row of windows on the other. A gallerie was a space for viewing the garden and later for viewing paintings. Beginning in the eighteenth century, the French would begin to translate corridor as couloir, which was an old word meaning a water drain or sieve with clearly very different—and not positive—implications.

Herzog & de Meuron

By the 1820s, the elements of the modern corridor were beginning to come together. Added to this was the development of the decorated corridor that made the corridor no longer just a passage but a destination in its own right.

Despite the development of the decorated corridor as a space of political and professional socializing and representation, it was not adopted for schools and universities that continued to be built around large rooms and halls, usually on a so-called pavilion model. Needless to say, the French would never have put a corridor in a school. The schools deigned around 1900 by Roger Bouvard (1875–1961) had long school rooms facing onto courtyards.

House C - Zaetta Studio

By the mid-1930s the corridic revolution was in full swing, reaching its apotheosis in the 1960s in schools, apartment buildings, and office buildings, where its former importance as a space of prestige and social differentiation gave way to generic linear spaces that facilitated the easy distribution of people and mechanical systems through the building. According to one researcher, the corridor “helped reduce social stress because it gave a wider choice of spaces that were better defined as to ownership.”


During the past century the corridor as an architectural element has been through many up and downs, and the corridor came to be associated with the shallowness of modernity rather than its grandeur. The rationalism of the modern age has “so far infected the word ‘corridor’ that it is hard to imagine that a corridor could ever be a place of beauty, a moment in your passage from room to room, which means as much as all the moments you spend in the rooms them selves.”

GASS Architecture Studios

Source: Critical Inquiry – Corridor Spaces by Mark Jarzombek

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