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October 5, 2020 is World Architecture Day. This is our chance to pay tribute to the creative minds who have changed the world by shaping the spaces in which we live, work and play. We’ll do this by looking at how a fundamental element of architecture doors have evolved and helped humanity progress through the ages.

Maslow's hierarchy of needs.

Image source: Androidmarsexpress2

Meeting Our Needs

In 1943, A. H. Maslow first published his “hierarchy of needs,” which is a five-tier motivational model in psychology that describes the progression of human needs.1 It is often depicted graphically in a pyramid shape, showing that the basic survival needs must be satisfied before people can address higher needs, such as psychological and self-fulfillment needs.

The Basics

The most fundamental needs are the requirements for physical survival. These include air, water, food, shelter, clothing, warmth and sleep. If these necessities are not met, then the human body cannot function optimally. Obviously, without proper shelter, humans would not survive long in the elements.

Knowing that people needed to get in and out of their shelters, yet still have protection from the weather, early human architects designed the first basic doors. These were made out of raw materials such as animal hides or sticks bundled together and tied to the door frame. Sometime, during the stone Age, they developed the tools to enable them to shape and bind wood planks together and hang the door on hinges. In 2010, the BBC reported that Archaeologists found a “fantastically preserved” 5100-year-old door in Zurich.3 The discovery is one of the oldest doors ever found and incredibly remarkable due to its solid construction and design.

These basic designs continued for thousands of years, providing protection from not only the elements, but also from hungry animals and marauding enemies—allowing humans to move up the hierarchy to meet safety and security needs.

Doors continue to meet those needs today. When architects call for doors made with updated designs for classic wood and modern materials such as steel, aluminum, fiberglass, composite and glass—then add on top of it smart deadbolts, door cameras, lighting and motion sensors, the feeling of safety and security for those inside rivals any ancient outpost.

Psychological Needs

Throughout the ages, doors have helped meet the “Belongingness and Love” needs by providing privacy, which can foster intimacy and grow relationships between couples and among friends, families and communities.

The next major psychological step up the hierarchy is the need of “Esteem.” For centuries doors have been a symbol of wealth, success and power and a reflection of the culture’s values. For instance, according to Architectural Digest, the Porta del Paradiso (“Gates of Paradise”) are a pair of double doors that provide entry to the Baptistery of San Giovanni in Florence, Italy. The beautifully designed doors were made in 1452 and constructed from bronze with gold overlay. They feature 10 sculpted panels that depict scenes from the Old Testament.4 Centuries later, Architect William Van Alen was commissioned to design the Chrysler building. The main entrance doors exemplify the styling of this Art Deco masterpiece. The building was a reflection of Walter P. Chrysler desire to make a visible statement about his newfound prominence in business. He said the building would be, “dedicated as a sound contribution to business progress.”5

Arch Door

Self-Fulfillment Needs

The highest of Maslow’s list of needs is self-actualization, which is the pursuit of one’s full potential, including creative activities, which architects harness to embrace and expand the look, feel and functionality of doors. Every day architects put special attention into designing doorways because every office building, apartment building, single home, mobile home, presidential palace and pawn shop has doors that need designing.

Beyond an array of materials options, architects employ styles that would boggle the mind of our Neolithic ancestors, including hinged doors, roller doors, bi-fold doors, French doors, pivot doors, sliding doors, pocket doors and more. Whether they are for the main entry, interior bedroom, front office, back door, conference room, patio or porch, the door is the spirit of the space.

We recognize and honor the architects of today and yesterday for their contribution to society. Norman Foster said it best: “As an architect, you design for the present with an awareness of the past for a future which is essentially unknown.”

By: Michael O’Brien

President and CEO, Window & Door Manufacturers Association

  1. Sources:
  2. McLeod, S. A. (2020, March 20). Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Simply Psychology.
  3. Image source: Androidmarsexpress
  4. BBC, Stone Age door unearthed by archaeologists in Zurich
  5. Elizabeth Quinn Brown, Architectural Digest, “World’s Most Historically Significant Doors”, July 23, 2019
  6. Dr. Paul A. Ranogajec, Khan Academy, “Van Alen, The Chrysler Building

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