Architecture of Stairs

Architecture of Stairs – Part 1

Hi all, if you read our previous blog then hopefully, if not enjoyable, you at least found it informative– as far as we are concerned either one is win!

Now with COP 26 being in the news this November, it was very tempting to focus on Passive House or Zero Carbon, however, whilst OSG do strongly support this message, I feel that I need a break from hearing about it and so I have decided to buck the trend and do a piece on staircases instead. I guess there is always an argument that multi-level buildings are more space efficient than single storey ones – and so the humble staircase is one of the keys to maintaining sustainable design. Maybe slightly tenuous?

For Part 1 of this Blog, I will focus purely on ‘design’ as this gives me the opportunity to include some of my favourite examples. It is a shame that for so many of us a staircase is simply a way of getting from one level to another as easily as possible, when actually it could be so much more; a sculptural object, a divider of an open-plan space, an opportunity to create double height volume in a room or even with a large window behind it, a filter between inside and outside.

I am always reminded of Chris Alexander’s approach in his book ‘A Pattern Language’:

 

Place the main stair in a key position, central and visible. Treat the whole staircase as a room (or if it is outside, as a courtyard)…

… Arrange it so that the stair and the room are one, with the stair coming down around one or two walls of the room…

…Flare out the bottom of the stair with open windows or balustrades and with wide steps so that the people coming down the stair become part of the action in the room while they are on the stair, and so that people below will naturally use the stair for seats.”

If we can think about staircases as an opportunity to create dynamic and interesting spaces and as sculptures within the building then we can realise what great opportunities they offer. As Architects we spend far too much time working out how to cram a staircase into a tiny space rather than celebrating it and that would probably explain why we also spend so much time redesigning staircases that don’t work in terms of width or headroom. I would also offer a suggestion – that we avoid squeezing in winders to make a stair fit as these create stairs that are mean in size, hazardous to use and impossible to get furniture up.

Below are some classic examples of my favourite staircases:

If we can think about staircases as an opportunity to create dynamic and interesting spaces and as sculptures within the building then we can realise what great opportunities they offer. As Architects we spend far too much time working out how to cram a staircase into a tiny space rather than celebrating it and that would probably explain why we also spend so much time redesigning staircases that don’t work in terms of width or headroom. I would also offer a suggestion – that we avoid squeezing in winders to make a stair fit as these create stairs that are mean in size, hazardous to use and impossible to get furniture up.

Part 2 of this Blog on staircases will provide some practical dimensional data to make sure that we all know how to design in line with the Building Regulations and British Standards, although based on the above I would suggest that these be treated as minimum standards.

See you next time!

J

…get in touch with OSG for more information on this topic!

 

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