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  1. ArchDaily
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  3. Detail in Contemporary Staircase Design

Detail in Contemporary Staircase Design

  • 01:00 - 29 November, 2014
  • by Paul Barton
Detail in Contemporary Staircase Design
Detail in Contemporary Staircase Design, Courtesy of Laurence King Publishing
Courtesy of Laurence King Publishing

If a building could be thought of as the architect’s manifesto to construction, then the staircase can be seen as the designer’s autograph – a signature flourish that can embody the entire statement of design for a building in a singular structure. Staircases can be flamboyant or understated in design, from refined to rustic in their construction and traditional to unconventional in the materials from which they are built. Whatever their direction, all of the staircases in this collection make an announcement about the building, whether they are intended to subtly blend in with their surroundings or to attract attention and inspire.

This book is a collection of 39 of the most exceptional staircase designs produced across the world over the last ten years. Detail in Contemporary Staircase Design features photographs of the finished staircases alongside technical drawings, illustrating the design and construction of outstanding projects ranging from intricate domestic creations to imaginative public and commercial features and dramatic artistic statements. Each building in this book is conceived by an architect whose all-encompassing vision drives and informs the configuration of each structure, provides a concept that gives direction to the building’s appearance and solutions to each design problem. Every featured staircase should therefore be seen as the distillation of each designer’s approach, encapsulating the motivation and direction of the entire building design. The staircase can be considered as a microcosm of the building.

Courtesy of Laurence King Publishing
Courtesy of Laurence King Publishing

Staircases have existed since long before the construction of multi-level buildings. They were not designed, analysed and calculated, or even planned, but were formed unintentionally, trodden into hillsides and worn away from stone pathways by processions of people making their way between destinations of different altitudes. Over time staircases have adapted and evolved, they have become technically advanced and have been built from every feasible material. Layouts and heights have varied, regulations have been adhered to and disregarded, until scale and reach are only governed by the environment and situation. Despite technical and material developments, staircases are still dictated by the combination of the following basic components:

  • Treads
  • A support structure/stringers
  • Top and base fixings
  • Balustrade
  • Handrail

At some point, each of these staircase elements has been manufactured from the full spectrum of materials available in the architect’s palette. From smooth concrete stringers, fully transparent glass treads and illuminated acrylic handrails to organic timber balustrades entwined around the stair. The full variety of fixing methods has been chosen to connect components together and secure the stair to the surrounding building’s structure. 

Courtesy of Laurence King Publishing
Courtesy of Laurence King Publishing

The most notable example of stair design that is defined by choice of materials would be the glass staircases that are installed worldwide in each of Apple Computers flagship stores. Not only do they serve the intended purpose of connection between levels but they create a buzz of appreciation from shoppers, attracting media attention and skillfully advertising and promoting the design credentials of the Apple brand. 

Courtesy of Laurence King Publishing
Courtesy of Laurence King Publishing

With the exception of the treads, architects and designers have chosen to discard individual staircase elements to produce a design that stands out from the norm: leave out a stringer to produce the look of a gravity defying cantilevered stair; remove the balustrade to create a skeletal design that may look dramatic but in reality would cause fear and trepidation with every use. Paring back essential stair components for the sake of producing a minimalist design that provokes an instant reaction may seem spectacular, but ‘minimalism’ is too often mistaken for ‘good design’ and it is the correct solution combined with the appropriate aesthetic that will provide admiration and long-lasting appreciation of the design.

Courtesy of Laurence King Publishing
Courtesy of Laurence King Publishing

Within architecture it is invariably the staircase that is employed to dramatic effect. Every significant church and religious building uses the staircase as a heavenly symbol of ascension, rising to become closer to God. Conversely, many pieces of art utilise the staircase as a motif to show the depths to which mankind can descend, as seen in the prison etchings of Giovanni Battista Piranesi. Plunging stairwells, intricate balustrades and sweeping steps; it is not by chance that the staircases in films such as Vertigo, Gone With The Wind, A Matter Of Life And Death and Battleship Potemkin are a main feature of the story as well as the set.

Courtesy of Laurence King Publishing
Courtesy of Laurence King Publishing

All of these directions, combinations and regulations can be succinctly encapsulated in detailed drawings showing the precise arrangement of the staircase design, its composition, construction and location within the building. Sizes and sections can be calculated, layouts can be proposed and revised and dimensions can be checked (and double checked!) against those on site. Design drawings are not only a pictorial representation of the staircase, they also act as a visual contract between the designer and the client; they are instructions to fabricators and guidance for contractors – they are the plan.

Detail in Contemporary Staircase Design is published by Laurence King Publishing.

We're giving away three copies of Contemporary Staircase Design! What is your favorite staircase design? Comment with a photo below (be sure to mention the name of the project and the architect) and you'll be entered to win. All submissions must be received by December 5, 2014. 

Cite: Paul Barton. "Detail in Contemporary Staircase Design" 29 Nov 2014. ArchDaily. Accessed . <http://www.archdaily.com/572385/detail-in-contemporary-staircase-design/>
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