What's the Role of the Staircase in Architecture?
Modern staircases can make a statement. By interacting with their environment and injecting character into a project, stairs can be the focal point of any interior.
Historically, the staircase was less a design aspect and more functional—they were but a transition from one floor to another, with the important (show floors) being on the ground floor. Upstairs only lead to private quarters. But things change, and so have staircases.
Medieval architects loved a spiral staircase
When we look back to medieval times, stairs were less of a showcase and more of practicality. Medieval architects loved the spiral staircase, generally with a large stone core, which carried people up in a narrow corridor to their desired floor level.
It was easy to add exits or doors at any point on the climber's (or descender's) route, and it was simple to illuminate them by leaving window space up, and attaching torch holds. At the time, stairs were just a route to private areas, away from hosting rooms of a castle or similar building.
The renaissance period brings a push for comfort
In the 16th century, Andrea Palladio, an Italian architect, came into the picture. His ideas revolved around the stairs providing comfort. He argued that stairs should not just be a way to ascend and descend in and outside of a building—these thoughts brought around the idea of using humans as a scalar reference in the design of staircases.
From this point forward, stairs become less steep and deep. They don't yet interact visually with spaces, and still operate between walls, connecting sections of a building.
Then, we saw the staircase as a sculpture
In the second half of the renaissance period, none other than Michelangelo (under the commission of Pope Medici Clement VII) turned stairs into an art form. His sculpture (which can be found in the Laurentian Library) took the traditional elements of stair architecture and then ignored them.
Michelangelo used columns, pediments and corbels in an expressive way to create a staircase that spilt unapologetically into the room. This design may very well have been a turning point in how architects saw staircases.
Then we began to see staircases as a power show
When a staircase has divided flights (like you'd see in a palace or similar), the design is called an Imperial stairway. This design's early adoption was to display power and wealth, and it appeared in buildings across Europe, such as:
● El Escorial in Madrid (16th century)
● The Jordan Staircase at the Winter Palace (18th century)
● Avenue de l'Opéra (19th century)
Each of these buildings used stairs to elude grandeur and showcase their power, wealth and status of their commissioner—the bigger the show of force, the more grand the staircase.
Finally, we started seeing the staircase as an artform
Modern architecture includes staircases as art forms. They compliment and interact with their surroundings. They are there not merely to take you from one floor to another, but to become part of the design and experience of a building.
In some cases, staircases are a complete art form and don't take you to another level at all. Take the Palácio do Itamaraty as an example. The 2.3-meter wide helical staircase (which is a piece of Brazillian modern art) ascends, almost magically, with no guard rail upwards. Its purpose: pure geometry, an art form.
Are you looking for your own work of art?
If you're on the lookout for a grand or bespoke build for your staircase (that being helical, cantilever or another style), we'd love to help. We work with architects, contractors and you to manufacture and install precast concrete staircases that will give your interior something different. Contact us today to learn more.