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Stairs are a ubiquitous element of architectural design, often thought of simply as a means of getting from one level to another. However, stairs can also have a secret life in design, serving many other functions beyond their basic purpose.

In our world of workplace and hospitality design, the humble stair has many uses and iterations.

From simple fire escapes to glamorous features, from centre piece social hubs to visual and physical connections, stairs play many roles in our interior and exterior spaces.

The Feature Stair

A stair can be the centre piece feature in a space. It can be the star of the space – being the visual focal point and manifesting the look and feel of its environment or reflecting a company’s brand essence.

This stair on the Sydney Airport Hotel Rydges is a feature of the lobby design. The sinuous form of the stair reflects the curved surfaces of an airplane and the fluid flow of the stair attracts patrons up to the Level 1 food and beverage social spaces.

WMK Rydges Syd 70

 The Social Hub

A stair located in the middle of a workplace can form a physical and social connection for that office. By using stairs instead of elevators, employees are more likely to interact with each other. It can encourage spontaneous conversations and help build a sense of community among the team. This stair located in the middle of the multi-level Bank of Queensland workplace formed the backbone of the central social hub for their office.

Staff moved through and ‘huddled’ at their social hubs enabling greater collaboration and social connection – and the stair was a key to the success of this design initiative.

220527 MPA WMK BankOfQueensland 0476

The Connector

As well as providing physical connection between spaces, a well-considered stair also leads the eye to provide visual connection between spaces and can be a physical representation of an organisation’s desire to reduce hierarchy.

Traditionally, splitting people in an office over two separate floors has been problematic –potentially in regard to fostering collaboration and a one team culture. Out of sight, out of mind.

By using the same physical space to travel up and down, regardless of rank or position, it creates a sense of equality among employees. It reinforces that everyone is important and valued, and it can help break down barriers between different departments or levels.

For Urbis the stair linked two floors providing a visual connection between teams. Not only can people travel easily between floors people on different floors can see each other. And this has fostered a much-improved team spirit and companywide connection amongst staff.

190618 WMK Urbis 0057

The Multi-use Stair

Stairs can also have other uses.

The humble stair can also function as tiered theatre seating or a social gathering space.

Think of the Spanish steps…

This indoor-outdoor stair at the highly innovative Northern Beaches Christian School (NBCS) doubles as access to the multi-use classrooms and functions as tiered theatre seating looking out to the giant digital screen nearby and it is a great place to eat lunch. 

WMK NBCS StudentImages 5D3 9480

The Wellness Stair

In some cases, stairs can even be used to improve the health and well-being of building occupants. For example, "active" stair designs encourage people to use the stairs instead of elevators by making them easier to use, and more convenient. This can lead to increased physical activity, improved cardiovascular health, and reduced stress levels.

At Arcadis, a stylish interconnecting stair connects the customer floor to the large breakout spaces on all lower levels, effectively promoting movement and activity for staff.

 WMK Arcadis 580 george Syd 7

Secret Lives

The humble stair can have many varied uses other than first providing utilitarian access.

They can provide an architectural statement, they can be a key feature, they can provide visual connectivity, they can provide theatre eating and they can manifest the brand of a company or contribute to the essential ambiance of a space.

It is certainly worth carefully considering the design of your stairs in your next space.

Posted by Greg Barnett

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