Last edited 22 Jan 2021

Circulation space

The term 'circulation' refers to the movement of people through, around and between buildings and other parts of the built environment. Within buildings, circulation spaces are spaces that are predominately used for circulation, such as entrances, foyers and lobbies, corridors, stairs, landings and so on.

Circulation spaces may be categorised as those facilitating horizontal circulation, such as corridors, and those facilitating vertical circulation, such as stairs and ramps. They may also be restricted to specific users groups, for example, in buildings used by the public there may be public circulation spaces, and also, restricted access private circulation spaces. They may be closed spaces such as corridors, or open spaces such as atria and in some cases may serve multiple functions.

The size of circulation spaces may be determined by factors such as; the type of use, the numbers of people using them, the direction of travel, crossing flows and so on. In complex buildings such as hospitals or transport exchanges, signage or other forms of wayfinding may be necessary to help people navigate circulation spaces.

Some circulation spaces may have very specific uses, such as for the movement of goods, or for evacuation. According to Approved Document B, Fire Safety, a circulation space (in relation to fire safety) is:

A space (including a protected stairway) mainly used as a means of access between a room and an exit from the building or compartment.

Where a protected stairway is a stair discharging through a final exit to a place of safety (including any exit passageway between the foot of the stair and the final exit) that is adequately enclosed with fire-resisting construction. And a compartment is a building or part of a building comprising one or more rooms, spaces or storeys constructed to prevent the spread of fire to or from another part of the same building or an adjoining building.

Approved Document B sets out a number of requirements in relation to the design of circulation spaces where they are used for escape. Other requirements for circulation spaces are set out in Approved Document K, Protection from falling, collision and impact, and Approved Document M, Access to and use of buildings.

Urban Design Guidelines for Victoria, published by the State of Victoria (Australia) in 2016, defines circulation spaces (or 'circulation areas') as: ‘part of the common area of a commercial, mixed use or higher density residential building and are used by occupants, residents and other building users. These spaces include foyers, corridors, car parking areas, and garden and recreation areas.’

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