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I was watching 12 Angry Men, which was made in 1957; and they show this floor plan of an apartment:

enter image description here

My main question is, what's the opening in the wall between the hallway and the main room? It looks like it ought to be a door, but it's shown using a window symbol. Why?

(Edit: I didn't emphasize enough - that opening really, really ought to be a door. If it's not, then I want to know why an apartment would be designed with the front door opening into the bedroom.)

(This is shown as an exhibit in a murder case, and they spend a fair amount of time discussing how long it would take a man to get from the bed in the upper right to the front door in the lower left. They all assume that he uses the bedroom door in the lower right and runs all the way down the hall. Going through the living room would involve more doors but be a straighter line, but no one mentions the possibility. Normally I'd attribute that to lazy writing, but with the way it's drawn it made me wonder.)

I'm also curious about two other things:

1) The double wall between the bedroom and the living room. I guess the space in between is used as closets, but they would be very oddly shaped; about 5' deep and 3' wide. That would be very difficult to use - a normal closet is about 2' deep, while a walk-in closet needs to be at least 4.5' wide. A more normal design, today at least, would be to make the closets open into the bedroom.

2) Why the hallway extends all the way to the right. It's not providing access to anything but the man's bedroom (ie there aren't any other apartments), so why wouldn't the bedroom go down all the way to the bottom wall? It'd be four feet wider that way, and could still open into the hallway.

The answers to those two questions could be structural. You can see I've already done a fair amount of speculating here - I'm hoping someone who knows something about midcentury architecture can give me a more definitive answer, especially about the mystery opening in the living room.

(Edit: So, one of two questions has to be answered:

  • Why is a door drawn as a window? I don't buy plain blundering, because even someone who doesn't know anything about architecture could tell the difference between the door and window symbols.
  • OR why would anyone, ever, design an apartment with the front door opening into the bedroom? Such a bizarre layout would reduce the amount of rent you could charge by so much that the trivial cost of turning the hallway window into a door would pay for itself within a couple of months.)
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Going out there on wild guess, but could they not be simple shutter-like closet doors? Or maybe even sliding doors? A closet in the middle. And in Amsterdam there are a lot of old apartments that have a bedroom straight behind the front door. The design looks a bit like a cheap hotel/motel bedroom suite ;-) –  Hendrik Beenker May 24 '12 at 9:30

5 Answers 5

Pass-thru closet designs like the one in the drawing were common in houses and apartments built during the first half of the 20th century. They lost popularity by the 1960's when squeezing the most usable space from a home plan became most important. If you look at photos of homes/apartments from this era you'll see numerous examples.

The hallway looks like a poor design. I've been in some NYC apartments that had bad/odd layouts so it wouldn't be entirely impossible to encounter one like this in real life. However, I would tend to think the overly long hallway here is probably done for dramatic reasons.

Interior windows like the one in the picture were often used to allow air flow through the apartment back in pre-air conditioning days and when people where a bit more trusting about leaving doors and windows open.

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2  
+1 Interesting... but if that is a window, it means the only way into the apartment is through the bedroom! That goes beyond odd into weird by my lights. –  Rose Ames Feb 6 '12 at 3:04
    
@RoseAmes Many New York apartments were built as tenements long ago, and often were repurposed. Many large urban areas had this, so it's possible that this sort of layout was common at one time or that the internal layout was adjusted with the advent of indoor plumbing but load bearing walls may not be adjusted too drastically. Still it's a movie, so it may be a dramatic invention. –  MichaelF Feb 6 '12 at 12:53

It was likely a conversion from 3 19th century tenement rooms to an apartment compliant with later NYC building codes. NYC had city-specific building codes until 2008. That interior window may have been a door, or it may have been an interior window to provide some light to an apartment/room without access to natural light. (Yes, these existed.)

My guess is that the window/door placement would have had something to do with where pipes for heat and water were located. Plumbing was a retrofit for these buildings. In some cases, staircases had to be modified or added as well.

NYC has traditionally has had a shortage of housing, so people had/have a tendency to accept certain undesirable things that wouldn't fly in other places. Also, starting in the 20th century, NYC has a history of regulating certain aspects of apartment living to a much greater degree than other places. Controls were placed on rental rates, for example, which may have limited the renovation budget significantly.

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The hallway window provides light to the hallway, obviously (the light passes in a direct line through the living room window).

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Answer to the question 2. Some walls are part of the whole building construction and can't be moved. I think, it is one of such. Of course, it is the bad design, but not idiotic one.

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While it is true that some walls can't be removed, this still is an idiotic design: they could have changed that inner window into a door, added a new wall to the right, so they could (1) enter in the living room instead of the bedroom and (2) have a new long closed instead of a useless long corridor. –  Lohoris Dec 28 '13 at 13:42

This is just unsupported speculation, but...

There's a possibility that the apartment was originally intended for the large room to be the bedroom and the room on the right to be the living/hosting area. Since there don't appear to be room-specific features in either room (unlike the kitchen in the upper-left or the bathroom in the mid-left), the difference between bedroom and living area is purely a matter of furniture arrangement.

It would then not be unreasonable for the only door to open to the living area, with the bedroom having a window open to the hallway.

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