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What Is an Areaway?

An areaway is a vital architectural feature, often a recessed space or passageway, providing access to a basement or subterranean level. It serves as a buffer, enhancing safety and ventilation while maximizing natural light. Intrigued by how areaways seamlessly blend functionality with design? Discover their impact on urban architecture and how they redefine our interaction with space. What's your take on this architectural element?
Jeremy Laukkonen
Jeremy Laukkonen

An areaway is a passage that offers exterior access to the basement level of a building. Depending on the construction of the building and the surrounding environment, an areaway may be open or closed off. Open areaways often have stairs or ramps that are designed to provide access to the basement, while others are closed off by sidewalks or other public right of ways. These passages can be used for virtually any purpose that requires direct access to the basement level of a building. In urban settings where the areaways often extend underneath sidewalks, they were commonly used to deliver coal to basement furnaces and in many cases are no longer in use.

Direct access is sometimes required in order to increase the utility of the basement level of a building. Homes often use areaways to provide convenient exterior access in the form of a stairwell. Some homes have a garage in the basement, in which case a larger areaway is needed to provide vehicular access. The same types of areaways can also be used in commercial and industrial applications, particularly in suburban or rural settings. These are all examples of open areaways, since the ramps or stairwells are not covered over.


In urban environments, areaways are often extended to the edge of the property line or beyond, underneath the public right of way above. This can create a larger basement level than would otherwise be possible, but also serves the main function of an areaway, which is to provide access. If an areaway passes underneath a sidewalk, there is typically a grate or some other panel at the surface that can be removed. When the grate or panel is removed, access is provided to the areaway and the basement that it is connected to. This can be used to take delivery of stock or for other uses, though historically most buildings used these passages to receive heating coal.

Since most urban areaways were originally used for coal delivery, these passages have fallen into disuse in many areas. This can present a public hazard in some cases because old areaways that are not properly maintained or repaired may weaken over time. If a heavy vehicle drives up onto the sidewalk over an areaway, it could potentially collapse. Due to concerns such as these, there have been campaigns in many major cities to fill in areaways that are no longer in use.

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