What is the Circulation Area?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Circulation area is the square footage in a building which provides people with access to the all of the spaces within the building. In many regions of the world, there are specific regulations about circulation area which are designed to make sure that this space meets accessibility and safety requirements for building users. The percentage of total square footage occupied by this area depends on a number of factors including building layout and size of the building.

Circulation areas can include escalators in addition to stairs, lobbies and catwalks.
Circulation areas can include escalators in addition to stairs, lobbies and catwalks.

Some examples of things included in circulation area include: halls, corridors, elevators, stairs, lobbies, escalators, catwalks, and any other parts of a building which are designed to create access to a room or area within the building. Parts of loading docks, for example, may be termed as part of this area because they provide people with access to and from the loading dock and the building. Circulation area can be altered by activities such as moving partitions and creating catwalks.

In order to qualify as part of the circulation area, an area must have ceilings high enough to permit passage. For accessibility reasons, there may also be width requirements which are designed to accommodate people who use mobility devices which as wheelchairs and walkers inside the building. Safety may also mandate width sufficient for people to evacuate quickly, along with multiple modes of ingress and egress so that people can still get out if part of the building is cut off or damaged.

When people make square footage calculations, circulation area is one among many areas which can be considered in the calculation. Distribution of square footage can be important for certain types of projects, and to meet government requirements. Governments may mandate that a set amount of square footage be set aside for specific uses for safety reasons, for example. Circulation area is square footage which also cannot be sold or rented, which means that it may be considered differently in taxes and other types of financial calculations.

Blueprints and CAD drawings of a building can highlight circulation area and provide square footage estimates which allow people to see whether or not a building will meet needs and requirements. These estimates can also be used when packaging a proposed project for review, so that the people conducting the review can have this basic information on hand when evaluating the proposed building or proposed modifications. Enforcers of various building codes may take special interest in this phase to determine whether or not the building meets government requirements.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


Say what you will about government control of our lives, I think the standardization of building codes is one of the most important functions the government performs. It might sound kind of wacky, but if we do not all build to the same specifications and according to some hard and fast rules, anarchy will ensure.

Imagine if you were in a building that had not been built with the required amount of circulation area. There is a fire and you are stuck inside because there is not a safe way to evacuate. This is a tragedy that can easily be avoided if everyone builds according to certain rules.

This was an issue during the earthquake in Haiti last year. Poor building practices combined with a total lack of building codes meant that huge areas of structures were flattened. The destruction would not have been as bad if construction had been more standardized.


Circulation area is an important consideration for architects and engineers because it plays such a huge role in both the logistics and the aesthetics of designing a building. As some of the other posters have noted, the circulation areas often define the look of a building. Small rooms are often completely identical, but it is the grand spaces where people gather and which receive the most traffic where designers focus most of their creative energy. For this reason, circulation areas are often the most beautiful spaces in any structure.

And at the same time they play an important role in making a building work for the people inhabiting it. Providing safe, useful and accessible spaces which accommodate the needs of people using them is the primary concern of any architect. Circulation spaces are important for regulating how people interact with your building.


@nextorrea - I'd never thought about it like that but you are right. I really like being in hotels and looking down the long hallways. There is something about those long corridors and the uniform design all the way down that just looks like nothing else. I feel like I've been in a few hotels where you could barely see the end of the hallway. It kind of creepy but exciting too.


I love it when a hotel has a huge grand lobby for their circulation area with lots of couches and a big ornate check in desk. Some of these can be truly beautiful they color the entire experience of staying in the hotel.

I think a lot of the appeal is thinking that, while you are a guest in this hotel, this space belongs to you to. Its like you've suddenly been given access to the greatest living room in the world.

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