Tuesday, February 25, 2014

DOOR SHUTTERS --Mysticism and Technicalities

Delwada Jain Temple India
St Peter Vatican

West Door, Rochester Cathedral

A door is a portal ‘leafed with a flap’ to control the ‘ingress and egress’ through it. A portal for pivoted doors was chiefly a load bearing and stopping element, in addition to being a decorative frame. However, with the advent of hinges a door frame that can receive the hinge end was required. The portal and the frame were now two distinct entities. The portal could be in carved stone, masonry work or moulded plaster, but for the hinge receiving frame the option was limited to mainly wood and occasionally metals. The portal, the frame and the shutter have been three key architectonic elements of opening systems. Selectively one, two, or all have been elaborately treated.

Roman and Greek doors have simple portals and shutters with well-articulated in-fill panels. The Romanesque period saw the stone jambs with flutings and capping entablatures. Renaissance period shutters were simpler, but doorways were intricate. In France and Germany the doors were intricately carved replicating microcosms of architectural compositions of columns, entablatures, pediment and niches. The doorways were in plain masonry. In Italy the door shutters were scaled with large number of panels, whereas France approached the door shutter as one large unitary entity (Fontainebleau). NASA’S spacecraft assembly workshop, has one of the largest door systems, with each of the four shutter 139 metres in height.

Door shutters, nominally, have been dual elements, creating a balanced form within a singular entity -the door portal. Indian tradition presumes door shutters to be the arms of the Brahma (the creator). The portal sides are strengthened by placing Dwarpal (guardians of the doors) on either side, but traditional Chinese and Japanese door shutters carry images of door protectors. Indian door shutters carry a symbolic black mark (representation of Saturn) to ward off the evil in comparison Chinese prefer red lantern or red colour for the same purpose. 

 Attachments and adornments endow additional functions and meanings to a door. Modern doors have many add-on and integrated systems, ranging from simple tools, devices to intricate gadgets and complex equipments. These are manual, automatic (mechanical, electrical and electronic), or synergetic, and are programmed with fuzzy logic. Such systems control: opening size, duration, frequency, speed, location, selection, etc. and ergonomically facilitate the working of a door system.

Technically use of dual shutters reduces the ‘hang’. There are fewer problems with making and operating small width doors. However, a single-shutter door is a better proposition in terms of security against forced push-in. In a place of worship like a Hindu temple, the meeting-stiles of closed shutters obstruct (vedha) the deity’s face, yet a single shutter door is not preferred. In Gothic cathedrals dual doors have been used under single pointed arched portal, but each with a single shutter. Restaurants’ pantries have dual doors with two-way swings, for separating waiters going in and coming out.

Allegorical depiction of the Four Seasons (Horae) and smaller attendant figures that flank a Roman double-doorway representing the entrance to the afterlife, on a mid-3rd C AD sarcophagus.

In early periods Pivot doors were favoured as these do not need a door portal except as a stopping and framing device. Pivot doors were used due to inadequate knowledge of metallurgy and techniques of hinge making and mounting. Cardea, was the Roman ‘goddess of thresholds and door-pivots (cardo =door-pivot)’. She obtained the powers ‘to open what is shut and to shut what is open’ as an appeasement for her molestation by Janus -the god of doors.

Cardo (or plural form cardines) is considered the north-south pivots of the axis on which the earth rotates. These are analogous to the top-and-bottom pivot hinges of a Roman door.

Cardo was also a fundamental concept in Roman surveying and city planning. The cardo was the main north-south street of a town. Cardo was also a principle in the layout of the Roman army's marching camp, the gates of which were aligned with the cardinal points to the extent that the terrain permitted.

Non-hung doors, like the slide-up or drop-down shutters  were occasionally used. Drop down shutters occupy little floor space, are quick to shut but operational efficiency was poor. Shutters folding out and forming a bridge over the moat was more of a quick-escape door. Its very heavy shutter structure (due to bridging) would need Herculean effort to close it. Spring aided rolling shutters for modern commercial establishments and garage leveraging shutters also require little floor space. Sliding doors, revolving doors, soft-vertical-stripe warehouse curtains, air curtains, have no inward or outward displacement. Japanese multiple sliding doors -Sho-ji are used in Washitsu (Japanese-style room). The doors have a wood lattice filled in with a translucent ‘rice-paper’ making it extremely light and glide in a channel without the aid of wheels, etc.

Self closing door shutters were once considered inauspicious or rather suspect due to unpredictability of its closing. Self closing doors are very necessary to arrest fire in hay and cotton warehouses. Revolving Doors were developed for American buildings and marketed with a lot of hype, as the ‘door that always remains closed’. For the Victorian attitudes of the era, the doors were branded as capable of avoiding the ‘noxious effluvia’ and ‘baleful miasmas’.

Door shutters opening inward or outward have been accepted in various cultures with different attitudes. In modern times fire or disaster escape doors, public building doors, doors of hospitals’ operation theatres, and doors for very small volume spaces like toilets, store rooms, vaults, open outward. Whereas dwelling’s main-door and doors for office cabins, have doors opening inwards to achieve safety, security and social privacy.

Roman houses had doors that nominally opened inward. Roman society permitted only rare individuals of high honour to have doors that opened out on to the Street. Plutarch wrote that the Roman people complimented Marcus Valorous, a founder of the Roman Republic, after his triumph with a house built on the Palatine at public expense, but with doors to open outwards as perpetual recognition of his merit as if ‘he might be constantly partaking of public honour’. Caesar was given this plus an additional pediment which Livy mentioned as a decree by the senate for honour and distinction.

For the Romans a door represented the character of the household and was an expression of the owner’s place in society. The front door was always open to a stranger and community. An open street door showed a willingness to serve the community and participate fully in political and social life.

‘Pliny the Younger interpreted that an unwillingness to participate with the community was the same as a willingness to engage in a destructive manner against the community. The Roman’s inability, to see behind, the closed doors always caused fear and suspicion, an implication that the paterfamilias had something to hide. A place of concealment was a place of potential revolution as can be seen by the conspirator Catiline in 63 BC. Sallust wrote that Catiline gathered his most trusted friends behind closed doors to attempt overthrowing the Republic’.

The formal entrance to a Roman house was set with certain depth from the street. It was a decorative entryway flanked by half columns or pilasters to create a picture-like frame. Strangers and formal guests were impressed by the passage through the fauces and atrium. The family members, neighbours and other regular visitors however, used a simpler side or back doors set flush with the street. ‘In Roman culture, the front door was always open to a stranger and community but to understand and be treated equal to the family, one had to approach from other means’. Hillier and Hanson state that the side or back-door was left ajar for the working class and to encourage neighbours coming in unannounced. Since the back door typically led to the kitchen, an important room to a house, the entrance carries a high level of presence availability.

For the Japanese ‘the door to happiness opens outward. A door simply imposes itself upon the room when it opens inward. Having the door open inwards has the outside intruding upon the inside. Japanese feudal schools of etiquette prescribe all kinds of norms for opening a door and coming into a room. Sukisha, well-bred people use the hand, nearest the door to open it a few inches (the length of a forefinger, to be exact) and then switch hands to slide it back the rest of the way. A man is judged by how he opens a door and a woman by how she shuts. This is so because in a room with a group of men, a woman served the food and take a leave. She would be observed closing the door behind her with grace. The balanced and graceful action of folding down one's knees on the floor, moving into a room, keeping at a level equal to others already in the room, were part of larger ceremony. The skills of opening and closing a sliding Japanese doors are part of reishiki, proper form or etiquette.

In Roman mythology, Janus was the god of gates, doors, doorways, associated with some form of duality. Janus is depicted with two faces, seeing the past with backside face and the future with front side face. Janus symbolized a threshold -a point of change and spatial transition Janus was also involved in spatial transitions. Janus controlled home doors, city gates and boundaries. Janus presided over the beginning and ending of conflict, and hence war and peace. The doors of his temple were open in time of war, and closed to mark the peace. He was representative of the middle ground between barbarity and civilization, rural country and urban cities, and youth and adulthood.


Some of the most famous doors around the world 

The Gate of the Gods: (Carved Rock Face). Location: Hayu Marca, Peru. The Gate of the Gods, or the "Puerta de Hayu Marca" has been at some time in the distant past carved out of a natural rock face and in all measures exactly seven metres in height by seven masters in width with a smaller alcove in the centre at the base, which measures in at just less than two metres in height.

Gates of Paradise, by Ghiberti. Battistero di San Giovanni (Florence)

Last Door at Padmanabhaswamy Temple

The door of Hell Rodin

Kaaba Door Mecca
Pantheon Door 

Ibirapuera Auditorium by Oscar Niemeyer

Evolutionary door

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