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5 Types of Vertical Circulation in Architecture

A well-designed building has many elements. One way of taking both the people and the architecture to the next level is by wisely designing vertical circulation.

Vertical circulation refers to moving up and down a building, accessing the various floors and levels it has. The circulation path should be clear, unobstructed, and accessible to all. The vertical circulation system can be choreographed to give the users a unique experience. 

The 5 major types of vertical circulation are-

  1. Ramps
  2. Stairs
  3. Escalators
  4. Elevators
  5. Ladders


  • They refer to the sloped surfaces that are used to access different levels of a building.
  • They may be straight, curved, or zigzagged and have handrails for support.
  • They facilitate the movement of many people, machinery, and wheelchairs.

Camp Adventure Observation Tower by EFFEKT, Denmark

This building provides a unique experience through the forest trees by simply connecting the boardwalk and the tower through a spiraling ramp. The design is such that it is accessible even to those with physical disabilities and provides a 360-degree view.


  • They consist of risers, tread, and a landing, supported by a handrail.
  • They take up less space than a ramp as they can have a steeper slope.
  • They come in different types like straight fleet, quarter turn, open well, bifurcated, spiral, and helical stairs,  made of timber, stone, or cement. 

The Ribbon Chapel, Japan by Hiroshi Nakamura

  • This chapel hosts marriages and has two spiral staircases that embody the idea of marriage and unison by intertwining and meeting at a common point. 
  • The bride and groom are made to ascend two different staircases and meet at the summit, where they exchange vows, symbolic of how two people walking different paths meet at the zenith of marriage. 


  • They are powered stairs, with moving steps.
  • They are used in places with heavy traffic between two floors.
  • They are supported by a handrail with a belt that moves at the same speed as the escalator. 
  • They may be straight or curved.

Centre De Pompidou, Paris by Richard Rogers and Renzo Piano

In this museum building, the bright red escalator is situated on the facade, true to the hi-tech style that the building has been built in.

It takes the users all the way from the lowest to the topmost floor. 


  • It is the vertical movement of a platform or car through a shaft.
  • It is the most preferred means of transportation in high-story buildings, especially for the mixed transportation of people, equipment, and goods. 

Maison bordeaux, France by Rem Koolhas 

This house embodies Kolhaas’ philosophy that the house is a machine for living.

The three floors of the house are connected by a 3mx3.5m platform that moves across the levels. The platform acts as a kinetic room, accessible by the basement, kitchen, and bedroom on different floors. 


  • They are rungs joined by parallel vertical elements.
  • They may be fixed and vertical or movable and inclined. 
  • They are mostly used to climb a smaller distance.

The Yellow Train School, Coimbatore by Chitra Vishwanath

This school focuses on the physical and mental well-being of children along with academics. 

A fun alternate circulation path especially for the students the ladders and slides that connect intermittent floors. 

With some experimenting, vertical circulation can be used for more than just transporting people and can become the defining element of a  building.  

Meta desc: types of vertical circulation, innovative stairs, unique ramps, inventive escalators, escalator design, ladders in architecture, creative circulation paths.

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