5 Types of Circulation In Architecture with Examples

We’ve all probably experienced getting lost in a jumble of staircases and corridors at some point in our lives. And they often leave an anxious and uninviting impression of the building.

Importance of Circulation in Architecture

Circulation plays an important role in our emotions towards the building, be it comfort or security. A building is considered to have good circulation if the progress from where we’ve been to where we are going is subconscious and predictable. In any design process spatial organization and circulation play a crucial part.

Ideally, in most cases, at least 40% of the total area will be taken over by the circulation in the space. And in the interior spaces, at least 3-4 feet wide pathways are often designed for comfortable circulation.

The circulation of space is broadly divided into two parts in both interior and exterior design:


Movement of a user in space vertically with increasing difference in level.


Movement of a user in space horizontally with increasing difference in distance. 

On a functional basis, circulation can be divided into the following:

  1. Approach
  2. Entrance
  3. Configuration of Path
  4. Path-Space Relationships
  5. Form of Circulation space

Circulation in Site Analysis

While doing site analysis for a site, the following points about circulation need to be considered:

  1. Pedestrian flow and approach into or out of a building
  2. Vehicular circulation inside the building
  3. Accessible pathways into the site
  4. The contours or topography inside that can affect the circulation in the site
  5. Existing pathways or circulation in the site

5 types of Circulation in Architecture:

1. Approach

It’s the path you take to reach the building.

a. Frontal

A simple and straight path that directly leads to the entrance of the building.

Frontal circulation in architecture
The Mill Owners Association Building in Ahmedabad, Gujarat has a single main path that leads to the entrance right away.

b. Oblique

Prioritizes the experience of taking the path and can be redirected multiple times before reaching the building. 

oblique circulation in architecture
The glass house, designed by Philip Johnson invites the user to explore the surrounding environment before reaching the building entrance.

c. Spiral

Highlights the three dimensional form of the building by making the user go around the building before they reach the entrance.

Spiral circulation in architecture
The David and Gladys Wright House, built by Frank Lloyd Wright, makes the user go through a revolution to reach the building entrance.

2. Entrance

a. Implied Plane

When you don’t want the entrance to obstruct the view of the building, a symbolic representation of an entrance can be made.

Implied plane entrance in architecture
The Liberty Square in Taipei is a stunning example of an implied plane where they've neither compromised the entrance design or the view of the building itself.

b. Change in Level

A change in height of the plane can establish the idea of entrance into a different space.

change in level with circulation in architecture
The simple change in level defines the entrance portico of this residence by Ramon Esteve Estudio.

c. Wall Opening

Most times, punching a hole in the wall is enough to create an entrance. By penetrating a vertical plane wall, an entrance is created.

Wall opening can be broadly divided into three types:

(i) Flush

Surface continuity of the wall is maintained by creating the door thickness equal to that of the wall.

Flush wall opening of buildings in architecture
Casa Meztitla designed by the firm EDAA highlights this stunning flush entrance that transforms and blends into the façade.
(ii) Projected

Creates a bolder statement by projecting the entrance to create a transitional space between the exterior and interior.

Projected openings in buildings in architecture
The Maricopa Campus of the Central Arizona College flaunts its bold geometric projected entryway.
(iii) Recessed

The exterior space is taken further into the building by creating a depression into the entrance.

Recessed wall opening in buildings in architecture
Casa Arm, designed by OOIIO Architecture, an illusioned masterpiece looks like it has been cut in half.

3. Configuration of the Path

a. Linear

It is primarily a straight path which then gets intersected and segmented based on the need - linear, curvilinear, segmented, branched, loop, etc.

linear path circulation in architecture
The entrance to the Hansol Museum designed by Tadao Ando adorns a linear pathway with water on both sides.

b. Radial

A single point from which paths are branched out in different directions and lengths.

Radial circulation in architecture
The National War Memorial in New Delhi designed by the Webe Design Lab, Chennai, has created a radial circulation path that interests the visitors everywhere they move.

c. Spiral

Originating from a single point, the spiral is a single path that revolves around the point and gradually keeps getting distant from the center.

Spiral circulation in architecture
Audemars Piguet's spiraling museum designed by Bjarke Ingels features a spiralling path on its roof.

d. Grid

Two sets of paths - vertical and horizontal, that intersect each other at regular intervals in a grid-like pattern.

Grid pattern circulation in architecture
The Topiaris Landscape Architecture firm designed this grid pathway with unique individual open spaces at the Tagus Linear Park.

e. Network

Multiple points are connected with paths heading in any direction in space.

Network path circulation in architecture
MVRDV designed a ramp network with pathways that dramatically lead the users to the building in Rotterdam.

f. Composite

A combination of the above mentioned paths in any ratio forms a composite path.

4. Path-Space Relationships

a. Pass By Space

The path is central and the spaces are designed on either side of it.

pass by space circulation in architecture
This antique corridor space belongs to the Milan Apartment designed by Studio Peregalli. The path is central to the apartments on either sides.

b. Pass Through Space

The path physically passes through and experiences each space before heading to the next one.

pass through space circulation in architecture
The museum of Modern Art, New York takes the visitors on a journey as they pass from one exhibit to another.

c. Terminate in Space

The purpose of the path is to reach a particular space, where it ends.

Terminate in space circulation in architecture
The Taj Mahal in Agra, India has a path that ends with the white marble masterpiece.

5. Form of Circulation Space

a. Enclosed

The path has vertical planes such as walls, doors or windows on both sides of the path.

enclosed circulation space in architecture
The Farmhouse designed by ADDA Architects in Surat, India, provides interest and is dynamic despite being enclosed on both sides.

b. One side open

The path contains an open space on one side such as balcony or gallery.

one side open circulation space in architecture
The corridor of the Gangouroubouro Primary School by LEVS architecten in South Africa has an entrance on one side and the school grounds on the other.

c. Both sides open

The path is not blocked by any vertical planar element on either side.

both sides open circulation space in architecture
ADDA Architects designed a central pathway with both sides open on the interior for the same farmhouse.

Circulation of space has just one goal at the end of the day, no matter what type of it we implement in our design. It should be unnoticeable, letting the user experience the building at its best. 

For instance, circulation is the invisible side character that enhances a movie without being too loud. And in order to achieve that, it needs to be given utmost importance during the design of a building.

This article covers a fundamental introduction to the types of circulation, as described in the book “Form, Space and Order'' by the author Francis DK Ching. Learn more about the book in the link given below.


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5 Types of Circulation In Architecture with Examples