However as these fascinating pictures show, the spaces can be transformed into works of architectural splendour in their own right.
The photographs were taken by 'atrium enthusiasts' across the world, from the tallest buildings to the most distinguished.
The atrium at the Burj Al Arab in Dubai is one of the tallest atriums in the world. Looking up, the blue painted-undersides of the lower floors fade to green as they approach the ceiling, blurring the distinction between inside and out
The atrium at the Jin Mao Tower in Shanghai is an 88-storey skyscraper where the proportions revolve around the number eight which is associated with prosperity in Chinese culture
The height of tradition: Holiday decorations adorn the Marshall Field Building in Macy's State Street, Chicago while the ant-like shoppers fill the floors below
Geometry lesson: The view of the atrium from the 33rd floor of the Pan Pacific in downtown Singapore which claims to be the tallest hotel in Southeast Asia
Suspense: The atrium of the Renaissance Hotel in Saigon, Vietnam uses traditional features to show the grand space to effect
Space age: The other worldly lobby at the Marriott Marquis in Times Square, New York wows visitors with futuristic design