Liminal Spaces

November 17, 2020
Kelly Eyink Associate, Senior Interior Designer

What do you do during times of waiting?

For many, we are living in the largest liminal moment of our lives. For those that aren’t familiar with the concept of liminality, stemming from anthropology, it refers to the time in between – the middle stage of a right of passage, where participants no longer are where they were, and are not yet to where they’re meant to be.

Any easy example to relate to – pregnancy. The woman is not without child, as she was before, and not yet with child, but instead, in an in-between phase.

And now for the world, we’re in an incredible liminal time, where it’s not life pre-covid, but not quite life post.

It also often happens to be a place of questioning, and a chance for growth.

Liminality’s application translates into the built environment as well, and right now, it’s that transition time we’re finding ourselves missing the most.

Imagine this – you’re walking from your desk to a conference room, and stopping by the printer on your way. Along this “journey,” you chat with three of your coworkers in passing, getting a quicker answer to an outstanding question, discovering a new lead, and learning an update on a high profile opportunity.

In a recent survey conducted by the MA Research + Innovation team, with over 400 respondents nationwide, this “liminal period” is what 75% of people miss about the office the most.

In preparing spaces now for what comes next, a world where we can collaborate and collide socially without safety being compromised, it’s important to consider these points of impact into design.

It is in these spaces goals will be set, ideas will be developed, culture will be created, and leaders will be made. If done well, these liminal spaces will cue those in the space to slow down and look around, promoting mindfulness and creating connection.

Consider the power of liminal spaces activated successfully, including:
  • Lobbies – setting expectations and establishing a brand identity
  • Waiting spaces – creating a sense of excitement for the destination ahead
  • Corridors – serving as inspiration, sharing the story of the organization
  • Stairwells – celebrating the journey through the space
  • Respite Rooms – allowing people to rest, developing resilience
  • Open meeting spaces – sharing values, ideating and creating as a team
  • Hoteling Spaces – accomplishing tasks between meetings for visiting staff
  • Cafes – providing sustenance, fostering casual collisions, and enhancing culture

Liminal spaces can also move beyond places for conversation, and serve as places for composure. Maybe that’s a powder room or quiet room where people can hype up before a big meeting, or cool down after an intense one. These concepts borrow from behavioral psychology and provide for human need based on innate neurological responses.

Another easy one, your commute home. Join me as we remember the days BC (Before COVID) where the commute was the transition from work to home, recapping your day in your mind (that damn Karen, but the awesome presentation from the team) and preparing yourself mentally for the transition home, where you can unwind and leave your work woes separate at the office (although feel free to bring your wins home).

This concept of liminality is the reason why so much thought and intentionality must go into the design of a space, to promote these moments of casual collisions and collaboration, encouraging conversations and innovations.

Within the built environment, the most commonly recognized liminal spaces are:
  • Corridors (office and residential)
  • Stairways
  • Elevator lobbies
  • Lobbies / waiting spaces
  • Water / snack stations
  • Restrooms
  • Phone Rooms
  • Respite Rooms
  • Tech-free zones
  • Cafes

Liminal spaces in the built environment directly correlate to the neurological experience we humans have, and by utilizing places strategically to support the humans, you can best activate your space.

If you’d like to learn more about these ideas, or work together on an evaluation of ways you can increase the success of the liminal places within your space, email me at