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5. Building entrances: Designing buildings for access and usability

Main entrance to a hospital building with signs

For a first time visitor, entering a building presents a series of challenges.

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  • Published on 28 January 2019
  • Of interest to Building owners, Designers, Developers

The entrance to a building should be easy to find and the door convenient to open, allowing building users to enter the building easily.

Entering and leaving

Everyone should be able to enter and leave the building by the same entrance. For new buildings the selection of ground floor levels is important to avoid the need for steps or ramps. It may also be possible to coordinate upper floor levels with the local topography to make level approach, entry and egress possible on more than just the ground floor.

Where a common main entrance is not possible in existing buildings with a raised entrance, an equivalent but alternative level or ramped entrance should be provided. The alternative entrance should not require a significantly longer travel distance.

Finding the right door

Entering a building is the culmination of a series of linked activities.

To find an entrance door, the visitor needs to find the building, the entrance area itself and then the entrance door.

Landscaping and other environmental design features can be used to guide the visitor to the building entry. Visual and tactile features may be required where there is insufficient information for those who are blind or have low vision.

Before entering the building, visitors will need to operate any door entry, access or intercom system, open the door, traverse the threshold and pass through the entrance door and lobby. 

The door they need may not be the principle entrance or on the elevation they first see. However, being able to identify and park near their selected entrance and having good unambiguous pedestrian routes to follow will assist in finding the right elevation and the location of the desired entrance itself.

In small buildings where only one entrance is possible, that entrance should be fully accessible. Even if visitors are not anticipated, such entrances make delivery of goods much easier.

To avoid stress, confirmation should be given at the entrance to a building that a visitor is in the right place.

Identification of the door to use can sometimes be difficult. The entrance door should stand out from its surroundings and sub-conscious cues such as the design of approach paths can assist in this process.

The availability of multiple external doors at the entrance provides building users with choice when entering or leaving a building. This is helpful when others are approaching at the same time.

Entrance systems

Entrance systems that need to be operated prior to entry into a building can be a barrier for some users. Such systems should be easy to locate, approach, understand and operate. CCTV coverage of an entrance area can be very useful in alerting staff to users having problems trying to access the building.

After operating any door entry, access, security or intercom system it should not be necessary to move backwards to align with the entry path or to avoid door swings.

Intercom systems that rely on spoken communication are not suitable for people with hearing or speech impairment and create problems for everyone in noisy environments.

Entrance doors

Visitors need to know if a door is manual, automated, linked to security equipment or controlled remotely. This information should not be established through a trial and error basis but be obvious from its design.

Some modern door installations can be set to either slide or revolve. This may address issues of temperature control but can be confusing for building users.

These modern door systems generally have sophisticated sensors and a button to slow down the speed of revolution. Users who are unfamiliar with the system may be hesitant to step into a revolving door opening without knowing if it will slow down or even stop. Others may not be able to find or understand the button to do this manually.

The force required to open a door can be an issue for some users. Automated doors make entrance into a building easy and benefit all users including those with disabilities, people with pushchairs, children, and people carrying loads.

In general, automatic sliding doors are preferred to automatic swing doors as they present less of an obstruction or hazard to building users.

Bi-parting doors that both slide and fold present less of an obstruction than swing doors but their operation can be confusing to some people.

Doors that are able to be left open provide unimpeded access for all. However, the edge of swing doors that are left open can present a hazard.

Being able to identify doors and visually determine the location of moving parts can be difficult for those who have vision impairment. Glazing should be clearly marked at the appropriate heights for viewing ranges and have a high contrast in all lighting conditions. The leading edges of the moving parts should also have contrasting bands for the safety of building users.

The transition from external to internal space should be level and occur easily and comfortably regardless of weather or the ability of the user. Even minor changes in level can cause problems and result in a trip hazard.

Wheelchairs and double buggies vary considerably in their width. It is important that doors are sized to accommodate a range of potential users.

Potential problems

Traditional revolving doors are inaccessible to many people and hazardous to others. It can sometimes be difficult to determine if a door is a revolving door and if it is, which way it turns. These doors are a particular problem for people with walking disabilities, those in wheelchairs or with vision impairment, people with pushchairs, people accompanied by an assistance dog and people who do not like confined spaces.

People with low vision often have difficulty when light levels change quickly such as when moving between a dark building and bright sunlight. Transitional lighting can help some people to adapt and remain safe. Placing seating adjacent to doors internally and externally provides a safe place to wait while vision adjusts.

Highly patterned or complex floor finishes can be visually confusing and uncomfortable to view – particularly for those who have low vision or cognitive impairment. However, contrasting floor finishes (contrast and texture) can guide people through the lobby to locate destinations such as reception counters and lifts.

Lobbies can cause problems as more doors need to be negotiated and sometimes the space to do this is limited.

Safety

Entrances should be designed to ensure the safety of all users. Wheelchair footrests can easily cause damage to glazing especially if they are being used to open manual doors.

When wheelchairs move over loose entrance mats, folds can easily develop presenting a trip hazard to other users. Entrance matting should always be recessed, fixed to the floor and be large enough to dry wheelchair wheels properly.

The edges of doors facing the approach of building users are a particular hazard especially for people with vision impairment.

Users should be able to establish what is on the other side of the door and if someone is approaching. This will give them the confidence and reassurance to enter.

Some people may become stuck if a door closes on them. The force required to resist the door closing should be low. Where possible, sensing devices should be installed to reverse the door movement automatically.

Design considerations

Hierarchy

Use the following priority order when considering entrances:

  1. Principal level approach and entrance usable by everybody.
  2. Alternative but equal level approach and entrance where the principal approach and entrance has limitations.
  3. Steps and ramps where a level approach cannot be achieved.

Entrance location

  • Select the visible attributes of the building so from the direction of likely approach, first time visitors find its identification is easy.
  • Where more than one elevation contains a public entrance, incorporate different design features to aid entrance recognition.
  • Ensure the location of public entrances is predictable and incorporates architectural features to assist in identification such as external canopies, material changes, orientated pavements and lighting.

Entrance doors – identification

  • Ensure entrance doors are visually distinguishable. 
  • Specify door furniture that is easy to identify, contrasted against the background and simple to operate.

Door entry systems

  • Ensure door entry systems are easy to find, protected from the weather, located on the handle side of the door, clear of door swings and within reach of all users.
  • Ensure door entry controls provide both visual, audible and tactile indication of operation and response, are installed in a suitable acoustic environment and covered by CCTV where possible. 
  • For staff, consider the use of proximity card devices in preference to card-swipe devices as they require less dexterity to operate.
  • Where used, ensure card swipe devices are orientated vertically as this direction is easiest for most people.

Entrance doors

  • Ensure adequate space is provided on the approach to and in proximity to both sides of entrance doors to allow everyone to gain access easily.
  • Ensure doors provide an appropriate clear opening width to meet the needs of all potential building users.
  • Position detection devices for automatic doors where passing pedestrians will not inadvertently activate the door system. Note pedestrians who are blind or have low vision tend to walk closer to the building line to identify the entrance door.
  • Keep door closer forces to a minimum. Where wind forces are deemed to be an issue, doors should be automated.
  • Ensure hinged doors are capable of opening as wide as possible with the facility to be permanently hooked open.
  • Where hinged doors do not open fully ensure that landscaping or other suitable features are installed to protect passing pedestrians.
  • Coordinate internal floor levels of buildings with surrounding topography to provide level entrances.
  • Provide weather protection to entrance doors. Where necessary, use flush linear drain covers with heel proof grates.
  • Where manual double doors are installed, ensure the primary door leaf provides the minimum clear width required.
  • Where manual doors are installed, investigate the possibility of making them automatic.
  • Where it is not possible to avoid the use of revolving doors, ensure an adjacent associated automatic sliding or hinged door is provided and always available.
  • Ensure revolving doors incorporate features that result in the door reducing speed or stopping if any pressure is exerted while in use. 
  • Consider CCTV use and speakers where the revolving door is out of view or away from staff.
  • Door operating controls and handles should be easy to find and use.
  • Where solid entrance doors are used, install vision panels and adjacent glazing to allow views of the inside of the building. 

Lobbies

  • Avoid the installation of lobbies wherever possible as these can restrict easy access.
  • If used, ensure entrance lobbies are large enough to take account of the numbers of people expected to use them (in both directions) and the time required to operate access or security systems for entry and exit. 
  • Install controllable transitional lighting designed to minimise surface reflections.
  • Provide seating both internally and externally.
  • Avoid the use of turnstiles and security gates. When required they should be located where their use is supervised.

Exit doors

  • Provide internal signage (with appropriate directional information) where unavoidable external features preclude level egress. 
  • Internally, ensure exits have clear sightlines from within the building and are easy to use.

Safety

  • Ensure pedestrian approaches are well lit, slip resistant and free of projections, sudden changes of level or uneven surfaces.
  • Ensure glazed doors, lobbies and surrounding panels are visually obvious with glazing not installed at low level to prevent damage from wheelchair footrests. 
  • Ensure permanent markings on glazed doors are visually obvious from both outside and inside the building in all lighting levels.
  • Ensure entrance flooring finishes are firm and flush and large enough to ensure that water is not tracked into the building.
  • Ensure hinged doors are recessed or guarded with provisions to ensure that the door edge is not walked into.
  • Where automatic door opening systems are installed, ensure door closure does not commence until users are clear of the door area.
  • Where powered doors are part of an emergency egress route ensure they incorporate a fail-safe system or have a manual over-ride facility.

Building Code requirement

Building Code clause D1 Access routes:

D1.3.1 Access routes shall enable people to: (a) safely and easily approach the main entrance of buildings from the apron or construction edge of a building, (b) enter buildings.

D1.3.2 At least one access route shall have features to enable people with disabilities to: (b) have access to the internal space served by the principal access.

D1.3.3 Access routes shall: (d) have adequate slip-resistant walking surfaces under all conditions of normal use, (n) have any automatically controlled doors constructed to avoid the risk of people becoming caught or being struck by moving parts.

D1.3.4 An accessible route, in addition to the requirement of Clause D1.3.3, shall: (a) be easy to find, as required by Clause F8 Signs, (d) contain no thresholds or upstands forming a barrier to an unaided wheelchair user, (f) have doors and related hardware which are easily used.

Building Code clause F2 Hazardous building materials:

F2.3.2 Transparent panels capable of being mistaken for an unimpeded path of travel shall be marked to make them visible.

F2.3.3 Glass or other brittle materials with which people are likely to come into contact shall: (a) if broken on impact, break in a way which is unlikely to cause injury, or (b) resist a reasonably foreseeable impact without breaking, or (c) be protected from impact.

Building Code clause F8 Signs:

F8.3.1 Signs must be clearly visible and readily understandable under all conditions of foreseeable use, including emergency conditions.

F8.3.4 Signs must be provided and located to identify accessible routes and facilities provided for people with disabilities.

All guidance related to Buildings for everyone: Designing for access and usability

This information is published by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment’s Chief Executive. It is a general guide only and, if used, does not relieve any person of the obligation to consider any matter to which the information relates according to the circumstances of the particular case. Expert advice may be required in specific circumstances. Where this information relates to assisting people: