Staircases tend to be seen as generic architectural elements that help one go “up and down” in a building, but what most people don’t realise is that they have the potential to be a veritable tool for problem solving in design.
The right staircase design can help maximise a given space and even add an unexpected level of functionality and amenity to said space. Take for example, a constrained site, with strict setback requirements, in need of a fire escape. A standard ‘U’ or ‘L- shaped staircase may not be suitable, due to space, but an external spiral staircase due to its compact nature would be an easy fit. Not only would it save space and provide a functional fire escape, but it also has the potential to function as a vertical garden of sorts. The outer frame could form the base for a lattice structure that could carry creeping plants or other vegetation, adding another level of functionality to a building project.
EXTERNAL SPIRAL STAIRCASE
EXTERNAL SPIRAL STAIRCASE (WITH VERTICAL GREENERY) IN GHIBLI MUSEUM, JAPAN.
In another scenario where a tighter constraint on space doesn’t allow for the use of an external multi-storey spiral staircase, (as a fire escape or otherwise), a retractable or counter balance staircase can serve as a viable alternative. This staircase has a raised bottom section that is not fixed on the ground and as such is able to get past setback requirements. This also helps with security by keeping out unwanted visitors, as only building occupants on upper floors can lower the staircase to the ground when necessary.
Space saving staircases as a solution aren’t limited to external application but are equally suited for interior spaces. A small apartment or narrow interior space can also benefit from the slender structure of a spiral staircase which takes up less of a limited space and maximises its functionality.
SPIRAL STAIRCASES FOR SMALL SPACES
Winding staircases can also be used to save space as an alternative to spiral staircases. Both are able to enhance the use and function of a space without obstructing or reducing from the spatial integrity.
Another interesting space saving staircase, is the retractable staircase. Say, you have a narrow corridor that presents the only possible access to an overhead attic space or roof storage, but you can’t have a fixed straight flight of stairs, as it would potentially block movement along the corridor. A retractable staircase would be the perfect element in this scenario. It would allow access to the attic when required and can easily be retracted when not in use to allow for a free flowing, open corridor.
Beyond just the kind of staircase that can be used in a space, an important feature that can be incorporated in designing the staircase is storage. From hidden drawers underneath treads, to embedded shelving in the nook underneath a staircase, thoughtful design can offer adequate amounts of viable storage.
BUILT-IN STORAGE FOR SPIRAL STAIRCASE
As is evident, there are endless ways to apply staircases in a design, but, its important to note that these architectural elements can be much more than just vertical circulation, they have the potential to save and maximise space while enhancing the overall user experience.