The Changing Face of the Atrium in Building Design

The Changing Face of the Atrium in Building Design

Although they have been making a comeback in architecture in recent years, Atria are far from a new design feature. There is a rich history surrounding Atria, going back as far as the Roman Empire. But what actually is an atrium? In architecture, an Atrium is a large open air, or skylight covered space surrounded by a building. So many of the beautiful old buildings that we know and love, are built around an atrium, but this design is not just reserved for old architecture; a lot of new buildings use them as a way to introduce light and create a feeling of openness where there might not have been any. So how has it remained such a spectacle of beauty from the Roman Empire all the way into recent years? Let’s review:

When it originated in ancient Rome, the atrium became the heart of the home as the hearth and kitchen were originally housed there. When they were later moved to other locations the atrium became the formal reception room and the centre of family life, much like the kitchen often is in homes today. It was because of the open air design, which allowed light and ventilation into other rooms around the building, that the design was quickly popularised and made its way into almost every home. Traditionally, the atrium also housed the altar to the gods, so families would gather there to pray, together or separately.

The romans used this space to its full potential, and as times changed, the atrium changed with them adapting to several different uses in that time. The practicality of a room that spreads light and air into a space, was seemingly deemed enticing. The atrium was also adopted by early Christians when they were designing their churches and sacred places. The open spaces were popular for these places as they let it light and air, and the Churches in San Clemente, Rome, and San Ambrogio, Milan, still retain their atria to this day.

Many famous buildings these days still boast impressive atriums, including Ampersand based in the heart of the West End. The striking staircase is featured inside a large atrium that runs the full height of the building, surrounded by full height low iron, toughened laminate glass to complete the look. 

It seems that although years have passed, atriums remain an aesthetically pleasing addition to modern day buildings – so whether you’ve become a fan through the popular game, Fallout, or are simply inspired when looking up and being greeted by open air at the world’s tallest atrium at the Burj Al Arab hotel, atriums are worth considering when it comes to designing your next project for that extra natural light and promoting occupant wellbeing.