Don't Hodor!

The humble revolving door
The Humble Revolving Door

This article is about an invention that has its origin from the hate of chivalry to energy saving. Interesting, isn't it?

My Dad first told me about this invention when I was in school and it simply blew my mind away! This pure innovation "opened the door" to a whole new world. (Saw what I did there?) Without this innovation, skyscrapers were just science fiction. Yes, I'm talking about the revolving door! It is a revolutionary invention that changed the way buildings were constructed.

Yet, there is still a problem with it that's not yet solved. This is more of a social problem. To understand all the aspects of the revolving door, let's get right to it.

Behind closed door

So the story goes like this. Back in the day (before the 1800s), the buildings used to have a simple open-and-close door. They were attached to the walls with mechanical hinges and had locking mechanisms for safety and privacy. People used the doors by holding the locking end and either pushing or pulling it to get in or out of a building. But there was a slight problem for a certain Theophilus Van Kannel.

Born in Philadelphia, USA, Theophilus Van Kannel was an inventor who saw the world differently and noticed the problems that everyday people used to face. But he suffered from an unusual problem: Chivalry. Kannel who lived during the Victorian era was a very antisocial person and hated chivalry. He didn't like following the etiquette that was the order of the day and the way people used to talk to each other. But there was nothing he detested more than trying to walk in or out of a building and locking horns with other men in a game of "oh you first, I insist." But most of all, Theophilus Van Kannel hated opening doors for women!1

Storm door patent
Patent drawing by Theophilus Van Kannel for a "Storm-Door Structure", 1888.

To settle his way out of this social phobia, Van Kannel invented something that would probably solve the entire problem, even the things he had never thought of. And in 1888 Van Kannel was awarded US Patent #387571. He named it "The Storm Door Structure." This would later be known as the revolving door. This patent was an improvement of a pre-existing invention across the pond in Europe. In Germany, it was called "Tür ohne Luftzug", (Door without a draft of air) invented by the German inventor H. Bockhacker. The first revolving door was installed in a restaurant called Rector's in Times Square in 1899. The tagline of the restaurant was: “Always Open, Always Closed.”2

World's first revolving door
World's first revolving door

Sixth science

Imagine a skyscraper in a desert. The temperatures there will be immense as compared to the suburban temperatures we experience. Air conditioning is installed inside to make life possible within these towers. Imagine you are at the doorstep of this building. You open the door, and a rush of cold air flows towards you. This rush is because of the pressure difference caused by this difference in temperature.3 The higher the building, the stronger is this rush. Imagine this building is Burj Al Arab or Burj Khalifa. Trust me you will no longer be standing at the doorstep once this door is opened. And to be honest, the door will be impossible to open even by a really strong person. In such scenarios, revolving doors help a lot. The episode by Engineering connections on Burj Al Arab explains this with an amazing demonstration.

The revolving doors were made airtight by fixing the angles between the doors. This was an idea that was inspired by the coal mines. (Another article on this soon!) The revolving doors worked in a way that the air inside and the air outside mixed very less. This sounds trivial, but it was revolutionary. This seal saved a tremendous amount of energy. And this is what led a lot of engineers to install revolving doors in small buildings as well. The flow of people getting in or out of the building is not interrupted, the seal is maintained, and energy is saved. But even with all these advantages, people don't use them often. Why? I figured you might ask.

Affinity fear

Sometimes they’re too heavy to push, or their compartments are claustrophobically narrow. There is anxiety about getting hands caught, or getting stuck in a chamber with another person. In addition to that, whether or not it's socially acceptable. The irony is that this door was made to solve the anti-social issue, and it became a cause for it!

Signs encouraging the usage of revolving doors at a building in Syracuse, New York.
Signs encouraging the usage of revolving doors at a building in Syracuse, New York.

In 2006, a group of MIT students researched the energy saved by swinging doors vs revolving doors. After the experiment, the inference was clear that revolving doors are far more energy-efficient than regular doors. This led to the students putting up signs to encourage people to use the revolving door.4

Andrew Shea, a designer from New York City emphasized the importance of the design of the buildings and also their entrances. He figured that the best way to get people to use revolving doors is simply to design them better. Newer revolving doors are the visual focus of an entrance; they’re big and spacious, with fewer compartments, and may turn automatically. He made an awesome kit that you can download for free and take to your local office building.

Pop Culture

If you are curious like me, the first thing that I would do is go to YouTube and search for Revolving doors. There is not much but a lot of different stuff. There are multiple challenges that people do around the revolving door. For example, "Last to leave the revolving door" challenge. It is a hilarious challenge, and you all should watch it. There are songs and albums from artists like Gorillaz and Crazy Town. Revolving door policies and politics are terms that are widely used in their domains. In addition to all this, there are various projects done by engineering students to generate energy from revolving doors. Imagine the impact this innovation has had on multiple domains and cultures.

It’s your turn now

From social anxiety to an energy-saving innovation, surely the revolving doors have been a part of our lives for many years. This simple innovation has saved up to billions of dollars in energy and become a pop culture phenomenon. From making skyscrapers possible to being in songs, revolving doors inspire me differently.As mentioned before Andrew Shea has worked a lot on promoting the usage of revolving doors. Here he speaks about design for Social change in the video below. I highly recommend it!

An engineer has to design something simple and have an impact on such a grand scale. The revolving door is one such example that shows us how it should be done. There is still room for improvement in the designs which we can build upon. Let's be curious and try to come up with solutions to the problems people face unknowingly. For more inspiration, keep reading articles like these. I'd love to recommend you more! I certainly am getting inspired by these studies. I hope I am doing a good job of motivating you as well. If yes, why not subscribe to the blog and follow us on social media? I'll leave the links below. Also, I would love some feedback from you guys on the articles or suggestions for the next articles. Until then here’s a joke for you:

Knock, Knock.
Who's the idiot out there?
Hey? Watch your language!
Don’t knock on the revolving door, genius!

See you next Saturday! Cheers!

  1. Reddit:r/theinvisiblegenius
  2. Instagram: @theinvisiblegenius
  3. Twitter: @notnitinchopra

Reference links

  1. Revolving Doors: Why don't we use them more?
  2. "esp@cenet — Original document".
  3. Revolving Doors - Sustainability @ MIT Archived.


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