Functional Architecture: A Brief History of the Door

July 25, 2018


No one knows exactly when the first door was built, but we do have a good idea as to why. Someone obviously decided a need existed to temporarily block or allow access through an entrance either "to" or "from" a given space. The earliest traces of the door appear to be more than 5,000 years old and have been unearthed in different parts of the ancient world. Many Egyptian tombs had paintings that merely depicted a door or set of doors. Since Egypt's climate was very dry and arid, archaeologists speculate that the doors in the tombs were probably used to cover the entrance to the afterlife.

There were many different kinds of doors that evolved as man's need to control the openings into the human world continued to grow. The design and materials used often depended upon the door's function, such as:

  • Doors used to control physical access
  • Doors endowed with ritualistic purposes
  • Doors used to allow ventilation or light
  • Doors used for aesthetic or creative purposes
  • Doors to hidden things (trap doors)
  • Doors (blind or false) that blend into the wall
  • Doors designed to keep animals inside
  • Doors that revolve for faster access
  • Doors to keep someone imprisoned

Early doors were most often hung by pivots at the top and bottom of the hanging stile, which rotated in sockets that were drilled in hard stone such as basalt or granite. Modern doors open in all directions using unique designs and hardware.

Several areas surrounding Lake Zurich have produced remarkable finds dating back to the era of Stonehenge. Most recently, archaeologists in Switzerland unearthed one of the oldest doors ever discovered on the European continent. The door, which is potentially 5,000 years old, is believed to date back to 3,063 BC and is made of poplar wood with well-preserved hinges. It was likely part of a settlement of stilt houses introduced to the region about 1,000 years after agriculture and animal husbandry began. These early doors were not only needed to keep things or people out as well as keep things and people in, but were also the first tools used to manage the harsh, cold environment. Archaeologist found a similar door in nearby Pfaeffikon, which was of a similar and possibly older age. To date, scientists have unearthed remains of at least five Neolithic villages in the Alpine area.

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