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In modern architecture, an atrium (plural: atria or atriums) is a large open space, often several stories high and having a glazed roof and/or large windows, often situated within a larger multistory building and often located immediately beyond the main entrance doors. Atria are a popular design feature because they give their buildings "a feeling of space and light." Fire control is an important aspect of contemporary atrium design due to criticism that poorly designed atria could allow fire to spread to a building's upper stories more quickly.
The Latin word atrium referred to the open central court, from which the enclosed rooms led off, in the type of large ancient Roman house known as a domus. The impluvium was the shallow pool sunken into the floor to catch the rainwater. Some surviving examples are beautifully decorated. The opening in the ceiling above the pool called for some means of support for the roof. And it is here where one differentiates between five different styles of atrium. As the centrepiece of the house the atrium was the most lavishly furnished room. Also, it contained the little chapel to the ancestral spirits (lararium), the household safe (arca) and sometimes a bust of the master of the house.
The term was also used for a variety of spaces in public and religious buildings, mostly forms of arcaded courtyards, larger versions of the domestic spaces. Byzantine churches were often entered through such a space (as are many mosques, though the term is not usually used for Islamic architecture).
The 19th century brought the industrial revolution with great advances in iron and glass manufacturing techniques. Courtyards could then have horizontal glazing overhead, eliminating some of the weather elements from the space and giving birth to the modern atrium.
Victoria Hall in Halifax Town Hall, 1863
Atrium roof in Halifax Town Hall, 1863
Atrium at the center of the Bradbury Building, 1893, in Los Angeles
One of the main public spaces at Federation Square, Melbourne, Australia is called The Atrium and is a street-like space, 5-stories high with glazed walls and roof. The structure and glazing pattern follow the system of fractals used to arrange the panels on the rest of the facades at Federation Square.
Looking up inside the 32-story atrium of the Shanghai Grand Hyatt, part of the Jin Mao Building
The Tucson High School Galleria and reflexive library (pictured) features a modern atrium tetrastylum with four support columns and open roof.
The Grand Piazza atrium inside the SuperStar Virgo
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