STAIRCASES – the Sturdy Backbone of Storied Houses
Updated: Apr 19
Whenever I see a uniquely designed staircase, I stop for a moment, investigate every detail, examine the building materials and the joints, check the construction elements and especially the finish. I'm fascinated by the central role played by the staircase in architecture, and this is my method of uploading a richer variety of solutions to my mind with which to face the coming architectural challenges.
Yes, there's magic in the design of staircases, and in the significant influence they bring to the appearance of any house. In many cases, the staircase is a central sculptured element that reflects the concept of the architectural design and the style of its owners. At times, the staircase generously extends an invitation to climb up and step inside another area of the dwelling. In other cases, their function is to politely guard the privacy of the inhabitants and subtly indicate that guests are requested to stay out of private areas. But always, the stairs are the physical connection between different spaces and activities, as well as enhancing the design concept and echoing the materials, colors and textures of the rest of the house.
Meeting the Engineering Challenge with an Artistic Touch
For me, staircase design is always an intellectual joy. The functional requirements are significantly complicated. Climbing up and down must be comfortable and safe. The human engineering aspect must carefully measure the ratio between the height and depth of each step, while taking into consideration the amount of available space that can be utilized.
In many instances, the staircase acts like the backbone of the house. Supporting the construction, connecting between the floors and directing movement between spaces. Usually they are treated as a central piece of the architectural design, underlining the logic of the space arrangement. Last but not least, they echo the overall design style of the building.
The First Step of the Design
I often choose to commence with the design of the staircase, and allow it to influence the rest of the process. But sometimes, if the design and circulation needs dictate otherwise, I locate the stairs in hidden areas, to leave more space for higher priority functions. And, whenever possible, I tend to utilize the area under the steps for convenient storage solutions.
In terms of construction, we can define 3 types of staircases:
· Located between two supporting walls, usually hidden and well protected.
· Supported by a single wall with a handrail on the open side.
· Completely open on both sides – as if suspended in space. Their mass is supported by the upper and lower connecting floors. This type of staircase makes an impressive statement – a centerpiece – that is usually designed as a separate sculptural element, decorated by attractive surrounding handrails.
Staircases are usually separate architectural elements within the building. Creating a visual language of their own, yet obeying old traditional engineering rules. Like every well-schooled architect, even in the middle of the night, I can remember the formula 2a + p = 62/64 – calculating the required proportion between the height and the depth of each step within a given space. I learnt this at Florence University (Italy), and have slept with this ingrained knowledge for over 30 years.
Playing with Light
In many cases, when plans permit, I love to encompass incoming daily light in the design, so the accurately measured spaces between the steps and the connecting rails create beautiful light reflections on the surrounding walls. In these romantically created situations, the staircase actually acts like a sun clock, indicating the time of the day and the location of the sun outside.
A Fine Sketch in Space
In bygone days, stairs would mostly be located in a well-balanced position between two supporting walls. But today, modern materials and production technologies enable us to create ethereal looking constructions that give the feeling of floating in space - like an artistic sketch. Our design options are expanding on a daily basis, and I strive to be at the cutting edge, adopting new options as they arise.
For me, the staircase is the single architectural device that acts like an independent artistic sculptural element, reflecting the taste of the inhabitants and enhancing their desired architectural style.
Do you also love staircases? In the following gallery, I've collected my favourite samples that I hope will enrich your understanding and help you imagine the solution that could be perfect for you.