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Founder of workplace strategy consultancy Re:Kreate, Kristoff DuBose is something of a stair obsessive. From London to Brasília, he shares a selection of his favourites.
It’s not always about grandeur. Sometimes a stair needs to be added but there isn’t any space. Stairs can take up a lot of room and if you’re not careful they can dominate when you don’t want them to. This staircase at London’s Royal Exchange building is in the top five not because it shouts about itself, but because it manages to slip in unnoticed. You’d never know it didn’t belong. In reality, it’s a steel structure that conveys a sense of geometry and the detailing is as refined and restrained as one would expect for the building. From a designer’s perspective, that’s a hard feat to accomplish.
There are a huge number of iterations of this stair around the world and though Apple has since moved on from this design language to a stone version, it remains a favourite for two reasons. Firstly, it’s the result of immense research and innovation that we are all benefiting from now. Engineers Eckersley O’Callaghan are leaders in the field as a result of what was learnt on the project. Secondly, the attention to detail was unrivalled. Every element was carefully considered in relation to the environment around it. There is not a single glass stair in an Apple store anywhere in the world that hasn’t been relentlessly reviewed for quality and excellence. I have a few grey hairs to show for it.
A lot of what makes a stair is context. Here, the seemingly open air, the dimension of the spiral and the multiple levels it touches all add up to a sensational setting. The minimal detailing gives the impression of a staircase floating. To make that work takes a great deal of craftsmanship and skill. Magic often enters the mind when thinking of stairs and this example embodies wonderment and playfulness.
Design: Foster + Partners and Alan Baxter
Manufacturer: Cambridge Structures
Handcrafted stones are put together here in a unique structural way – creating a piece of spinal architecture. The contrast of material between the limestone treads and bronze balustrade is deeply impactful and the final result highlights what is possible when ingenuity, willpower and love for craft are combined. Adroitly positioned, the stair descends in a careful stroke and takes up very little room. While it’s clearly not of the building’s original architectural language, it nonetheless feels harmonious.
It was over fifty years ago that this stair was built. Poured concrete in the most elegant of forms creates a grand, elegant, yet gentle sweep of a stair. If you judge stairs on their compliance with code, you’d have to give this one a pass. The lack of handrail or balustrade serves to highlight the purity of the form. Neimeyer’s sketchbook was notoriously filled with intersecting geometry. That obsession found its peak in this moment in architecture. The stair rises out of the slice in the floor and caresses the mezzanine above. There are few, if any, better moments than this in the world of stairs.
Design: Oscar Neimeyer
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