Photo of the day: Negative Floors

Some buildings label their 1st floor as 1, others as L for lobby or G for ground floor. I’ve even seen it as 0 in European cities where the “1st floor” denotes the first floor above ground level — what Americans consider to be the 2nd floor.

But never have I ever seen this:

Negative floors. Floor -1. I assumed it must have been the basement, but honestly I was too scared to find out. What if I could never come back?

Then upon further reflection I realized that this is actually kind of genius. In an elevator that brings you both above ground and underground, a negative number much more clearly indicates going below the ground floor. It’s smart, but it isn’t standard, so instead of being more effective, it just becomes novelty.

I so wish I could remember where I spotted this gem — if you know where it is, please tell me in the comments! (Israel, maybe?)

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  1. JulieK says

    Better than my building which starts numbering at 1 at the lowest level of the carpark. So the level at ground level, where people walk in, is level 8, accounting for the 7 levels of underground carpark. Fortunately in the lifts going to the upper floors, they label this “G”, but the fire stairs are … interesting.

    • says

      We had this in Wean Hall at Carnegie Mellon. The building is built on a hillside, so you enter the building at the 5th floor. 1st through 4th floors are underground — but only on one side of the building :)

  2. M says

    In Europe it’s fairly standard to use -1, -2 etc for anything below ground level. 0 is ground level and 1 is the American equivalent of the second floor. It seems more logical to me and more of a standard than what is used here in the US which can use P, G, * for Lobby and B and who knows what else.

  3. Ryan says

    I think this would make more sense if there were multiple levels below ground; e.g. -1, -2. In that scenario, I’ve seen B1, B2, etc. However, unless you see the buttons arranged in the proper order on the panel, there may be confusion. Imagine if someone was unfamiliar with the building and someone verbally instructed them to “go to B2”, one may have to stop and think which level was lower. In that case, I would vote for the prior approach. Although, “negative one level” doesn’t seem to roll off the tongue as well.

  4. Sally says

    Rather than numbers I have an ongoing fascination watching people struggle with the and the >< buttons on an elevator.

    When I think about it they are self explanatory (and the same labels seem to be used globally) however many people still select the opposite to the one they actually want.

  5. says

    I think it’s pretty common to have negative floors on elevators all around Europe. That’s pretty much the “standard” here in Italy.

  6. Guy Harvey says

    “It’s smart, but it isn’t standard, so instead of being more effective, it just becomes novelty.”

    How do you know it isn’t a standard in Europe? Seems in fact that it is quite standard. Your comment is quite ethnocentric – comparing what is standard in your culture with another culture.

    B1 B2 is using “B” for basement which a European visitor in New York might not understand.

  7. Carolyn Chandler says

    I’ve seen this too! There’s a wing of Heathrow airport, near the express into London, that is mainly underground. I think it goes as far as – 5. It makes logical sense but I was really disoriented with it – although it may have been because it was strange to be someplace so deep underground that looked so open and airy. It was a little creepy.

  8. says

    Hi, thanks for bring this up, since its an interesting UX and cultural issue.

    This way of numbering floors is actually quite common here in Brazil. And I agree with Agata, numbers are more global than letters as indicators of floor levels.

    In Brazil some buildings have T as the ground floor, which stands for “Térreo”. This word means something like “earth level” in Protuguese. What does T means for a non-Portuguese speaking person?

    Naming the ground floor as “0”, all floors above ground floor as positive numbers starting at 1, 2, 3… and all floors below ground floor as negative numbers starting at -1, -2, -3… makes sense to me as a more global approach to floor labeling.

  9. says

    It is quite common in India. Typically, we have two levels of parking -1 and -2. Essentially, this is basement 1 and basement -2 allocated for parking.


    Nothing scary about that at all.

  10. Tomj says

    I am from czech republic and this is very common. I’m used to that whole life, but I always feel strange when I have to press -1 or -2.

  11. says

    Reading the posts above, one could think that only the way it’s done in the US is non-standardwise :)

    In Holland I could easily show you a hundred or more places where it’s done the -2/-1/0/1/2 way.

    But, I have to be honest, the ground floor is also often refered to as P (‘Parterre’) or BG (‘Begane grond’, that’s ground floor in Dutch).

    The nice thing about this thread is that it made me think about something so obvious (thus not) I never thought it would be worth thinking about. I will try doing this more often in my work as a website builder. So thanks!

  12. Gil Luchter says

    In Israel this is very common in business buildings, when you can get to the parking in the same elevator. In shopping centers and even in hospitals.


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