Architects across the centuries have used staircases to make design and social statements. Even as the high speed lifts take our skyscrapers ever higher, the contemporary stairs are making their presence felt. From dual functional staircases that double up as seating, to sculptural pieces facilitating social interaction, stairs are now doing more than ever before! They connect floors, impress visitors, make inhabitants comfortable, and are often at the heart of the structure.
With our current skylines consisting essentially of high-rises, we pay little attention to the stairs in our buildings that are tucked away as functional elements at the rear. In the age of high-speed elevators, staircases are necessary safety exits yet old-fashioned.
But for architects, staircases have an eternal appeal, that goes beyond the function of travelling up and down. The stairs are a vehicle conveying the character of spaces they grace. Some of the modern day staircases in homes and large commercial spaces are beautifully executed works of art. From homes that experiment with innovative stairs to corporates that are converting their staircases into meeting spaces, lounges, and of course distinctive architectural features, there is a lot happening with the staircase.
A brief history
But before we jump into how the masters of modern design are looking at the lifeline of a structure facilitating movement of people, we would like to invite you to take a step back and see how the stairs have evolved over time. From serving a purely functional role to help people climb up to tall towers in castles, to climbing up to temples, the stairs gained importance as architectural features when one-storey homes came to be built. Initially, they became symbols of hierarchy with the master of mansion occupying the upper floor and those who served him living at the lower levels. Over time, as staircases came to the centre of the homes, they became statements of affluence with large, ornamental structures leading up from the entry of the home up to the first floor. These impressive staircases were often made of wood, marble, stone; crafted to showcase the master’s social profile and standing.
With the onset of the 19th century as lifts and elevators became the norm, tall buildings became the aspirational architecture. Here stairs were relegated to the rear of the building performing a very functional role. During this period, staircases lost their charm and were designed to exacting architectural safety standards as outlined by leading architects of the time. During this time, staircases continued to make their presence felt in residential architecture, and just a select few commercial spaces.
Staircase, the Star
Today, corporate look to revive large abandoned warehouses and factory sheds into contemporary workspaces, the staircases are making a comeback in commercial architecture. Often the sheds are huge, with enormous floorspaces. The architects working on these projects are designing and fashioning staircases to be highlights of the structure. Usually placed at the heart of the structure, architects view the modern staircase as the element that connects the different sections of the office building, by being spacious, wide, and transparent; unlike the earlier times, where staircases were designed to segregate between the various living areas and their inhabitants.
And modern design is giving staircases a new role. No longer are these vertical elements merely connectors, they are doubling up as socializing spaces, work spaces, lounge areas, health zones and of course, people can use them to move seamlessly across the floors. While there are staircases that are aesthetically stunning and hark back to the grand stairways of the older times, there are several that are experimental and edgy, and lend a very ‘Now’ look to the buildings they stand in. This issue of InterEdge looks at some innovative and breathtaking stairs in recent structures, and invites you to relook at this element in a different and more creative light.