Stairs are an architectural feature that not only provide an opportunity to create a focal point but well-designed, beautiful stairs encourage physical activity and create opportunities for spontaneous interactions and can even be places for collaboration. With the biophilic movement and building standards like WELL, Fitwel and Living Building Challenge, stairs present interesting opportunities to contribute to occupant wellness. Here are some exceptional examples of stair treads to inspire your own projects.
Captivate people’s attention with multipurpose stair treads
From Dezeen: Evernote’s office features padded treads, encouraging employees to sit and collaborate
Multipurpose design is at an all-time high. In an effort to maximize the usability of a space, architects are experimenting with modular design. When applied to stairs, this results in some unique concepts that are practical but also eye-catching and fun. At Evernote, the designers turned the idea of stair treads on its head by padding some of the treads, creating seating spaces on one side of a staircase. In an office setting, this concept encourages social interaction and on-the-spot collaboration, which results in higher productivity. The design is rounded out by selecting wood for the stairs, which warms the space and provides numerous biophilic benefits.
There are many other situations in which stair treads become more useful when doubled as seating. Retail spaces, universities, libraries, and event spaces can all make use of staircase seating. This also opens the door for designers to imagine new ways to integrate stairs into the built environment. By considering stairs as dual-purpose steps and seats, designers can easily and efficiently optimize a space. This is especially useful in smaller spaces, where multipurpose design is a necessity. At AutoGravity, the stairs incorporate a slide to serve as another way to convey the company’s innovative and creative brand values.
From Lawrence Anderson: AutoGravity’s stairs and stadium seating provide a creative and fun place to connect and collaborate
Outdoor spaces can also utilize multipurpose seating. Bleachers are common outdoor seating options, but they’re not ideal as stairs. Instead, wide outdoor staircases can double as seating for large events. One example is the Plassen Cultural Center in Norway designed by 3XN Architects. Renowned for its jazz concerts, the Center features an expansive staircase that’s used for seating during events. “By using steps instead of traditional seats, the atmosphere becomes more informal,” said 3XN creative director Kim Herforth Nielsen. “By turning the building into an integrated part of the public square it becomes more than a building. It turns into a piece of land art, which adds an extra dimension to the place and generates life.”
From Dezeen: The Plassen Cultural Center’s outdoor steps transform into casual seating during events
Lighted stair treads create visual interest
From TerraMai: Lincoln Square backlit Mission Oak Driftwood Stair Treads.
Architects and designers are placing more importance on stairs. Meeting compliance standards is a must but designers are adept at finding ways to design in function that are also eye-catching features. There are very practical reasons behind stair tread design. In a presentation for the 2014 International Conference on Universal Design, architects Karen Kim and Edward Steinfeld explored the effect of stairway interaction on users. They concluded that higher tread visibility can improve stair safety if used correctly. This means that drawing more attention to the actual treads can keep user distraction to a minimum, thereby reducing the amount of accidents.
While stair treads can be simple, more designers are using them as canvasses to unify a space’s design and create a stronger experience. The possibilities are endless. Treads can extend an underlying theme present in a built environment, or they can introduce a new design element that complements the existing architecture.
Aesthetically Pleasing Stairs Encourage Short Periods of Physical Activity
From TerraMai: The reclaimed teak stairs at UC Berkeley Energy Biosciences Building are a central feature that keep students and faculty on the go.
Stairwells hidden from view are becoming a thing of the past. To encourage intermittent bouts of physical activity, it is important for stairs to be readily visible to building occupants. People are more likely to take the stairs if stairs are in sight and aesthetically pleasing. WELL’s Fitness Concept includes the Feature, Interior Fitness Circulation, which specifies the integration of interior pathways and stairs within the built environment in an effort to reduce sedentary tendencies. Part 3 of the Feature focuses on incorporating aesthetic elements throughout the stair; artwork, music, daylighting, window views, light levels and biophilic elements.
Biophilic stair treads can improve occupant health and wellness
From the Miller Hull: The Center’s stairwells offer ample light and shadows providing biophilic benefits to occupants
Biophilic design is extremely popular for its proven ability to enhance wellness in the built environment. As a holistic design philosophy, biophilic design ought to be integrated into every part of a building, and that includes stair treads. Using wood for treads is a simple and cost-effective way to incorporate biophilia. Reclaimed wood is particularly ideal because it fosters a strong visual and material connection to nature, and its nearly universal aesthetic appeal looks fantastic in any space.
The staircase at the Living Building Challenge certified Bullitt Center in Seattle, WA (pictured above) is an exemplary example of biophilic designed stairs. The irresistible staircase features fresh air, crafted wood and steel clad treads, ample daylight and stunning views of the Seattle skyline.
From Contemporist: This one-of-a-kind staircase in a Tel Aviv office building uses poplar wood to create a staircase that winds into a tornado-shaped balcony
While less common, using greenery on staircases is another biophilic option. This creates what is dubbed as a “living staircase.” The most famous example is located in Ampersand, a London office building. The verdant staircase was designed by Paul Cocksedge Studio and features a garden that winds down the length of the handrail. The treads weren’t overlooked either; FSC certified American white oak was used for its bright, minimal appearance. The Ampersand staircase is so noteworthy because it demonstrates how the different elements of a staircase can come together perfectly.
From Paul Cocksedge Studio: The Living Staircase is a breathtaking example of biophilic design
Experiential staircases with unique treads provide memorable focal points
From Dezeen: A steel and wood staircase is the star of this hallway at Piercy & Company
Experiential design is another idea that’s changing how Architecture & Design professionals are viewing the built environment. Experiential design is all about occupant-building interaction, so built elements that encourage such interaction are crucial. There’s also a branding aspect involved. Experiential designers believe that occupants ought to be engaged in a multi-sensorial narrative that increases the enjoyment of spending time in a space, and branding is critical to creating that narrative. When occupants feel connected to both the purpose and design of a built environment, an immersive experience is created.
So what would an experiential staircase look like? In short, it would include interesting design, attractive treads, and brand integration. The staircase at Piercy & Company (pictured above) is an excellent example. Its suspended steps and gently sloping handrails contribute to the building’s airy, minimalist feel. Moreover, the beautiful wood chosen for the treads and handrails contrasts well with the white steel. All in all, it’s a stunning staircase that never fails to draw the eye. It is so attractive that occupants are sure to use it often leading to chance meetings and greater worker interaction.
From TerraMai: Text on the risers of the reclaimed Douglas Fir treads reinforce Living Computers Museum + Lab branding.
Staircases are ideal candidates for experiential design since most occupants in a building with stairs often use them every day. It’s a great opportunity to take something common and fully integrate it into your brand and vision. Even a little change like installing new stair treads can boost worker morale and increase satisfaction.
Stair treads are more than just a functional element. In the same way that door frames accentuate doors, treads accentuate staircases. These inspiring examples show that it’s possible for stairs to transcend their obvious function; they can also become workstations, collaboration spots, event spaces and fitness components.
Best of all, it’s easy for your stair treads to be a stand out design feature. All you need is the right materials and a bit of inspiration.