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In Case of Meaning: Do Not Take the Stairs A curious investigation of the architectural phenomenon and cultural significance of the stair and the analysis of human behaviors and interactions

Heather McWilliams

Master of Architecture Thesis 2013 School of Architecture College of the Arts 121

Dedicated to my parents for always believing in me and encouraging me to live my dreams no matter the distance -

- and to my loving husband for his patience, kindness, and everlasting support


In Case of Meaning: Do Not Take the Stairs A curious investigation of the architectural phenomenon and cultural significance of the stair and the analysis of human behaviors and interactions by Heather McWilliams

Thesis document submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Architecture at Portland State University College of the Arts School of Architecture Portland, Oregon June 2013



Acknowledgements This thesis would not have been made possible without the help of a number of people and to whom I am greatly indebted. Foremost, I would like to thank Nora Wendl for helping me make my vision a reality. Her continuous support of this investigation and the patience, motivation, and immense knowledge she passed on to me makes me forever grateful. Her neverending supply of books opened my eyes to the impact of writing and visual graphics, and I could not have imagined having a better advisor and mentor for my thesis. A very special thanks to Juan Heredia for always providing me with historical references and most importantly for introducing me to some of the most inspiring architects and writers that I will admire for the rest of my career. To Steven Elhbeck for his wisdom and moral support, and always having the ability to expand my thinking about this thesis. Thank you for sharing years of your own research and historical information and contributing towards the growth of my investigation. To PSU School of Architecture and Faculty for letting me partake on this journey in the first place. A special thanks to Clive Knights and Jeff Schnabel for encouraging me to invest my time in a thesis that contributed to the meaning and character of my future career and to support my personal growth as a professional. To my in-laws, I would have never been able to complete my masters degree without your continuous encouragement, support, and love. To Meghan and Brent for giving me a place to stay, feeding me when I was too busy to eat, and listening to me banter when I’ve had a hard day. To my husband, words will never explain the deep appreciation I have for you and your patience and ability to keep me smiling, no matter the mood I’m in. You have been so understanding of the time and sacrifice I’ve put into my degree and I couldn’t ask for a better man to spend my life with. Thank you for caring for me and living my dreams with me. I love you so much. Finally to my step mom, I do not think you will ever realize how you have impacted my life. No matter the task, project, or goal, you have always been my cheerleader. You have taught me how to be strong and fight for what I want. The lessons you have taught me will carry on throughout my entire career and I am forever blessed! I love you!






Initial Research Question���������������������������������������������������������������������2


Restoring the Future�������������������������������������������������������������������������� 66


Research Abstract����������������������������������������������������������������������������������3


Case Study Analysis����������������������������������������������������������������������������� 68



Staircase vs. Means of Egress���������������������������������������������������������������6

3.1 3.2

2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4


Human Behaviors Reconsidered������������������������������������������������������ 86


Building Code History������������������������������������������������������������������������ 13


4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 4.5


Conformities of Spatial Demands���������������������������������������������������� 90


The Problem with Safety Requirements���������������������������������������� 21

4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4


Forms of Encounters������������������������������������������������������������������������ 100

5.1 5.2 5.3


Accurate Response to Building Codes������������������������������������������� 27


5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 5.5 5.6


Architectural Phenomenon and Stair History������������������������������ 30


Installation/Full Scale Concept Model������������������������������������������� 108

7.1 7.2 7.3



The Final Argument��������������������������������������������������������������������������� 117


Compendium of Stairs����������������������������������������������������������������������� 36


A Letter to Architects���������������������������������������������������������������������� 118

8.1 8.2 8.3 8.4 8.5 8.6 8.7

9.0 Notes��������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������� 119

Character to Domestication

Loss of Meaning Representing Something More

BOCA National Building Code (BOCA) Uniform Building Code (ICBO) Standard Building Code (SBCCI) International Building Code (IBC) Building Code Timeline of the Stair

Why We Need Them Why They Are Not Accurate Why We Should Reconsider Them

Relationships to Human Behaviors

Earliest Example of a Stair Vitruvius, Alberti, and Palladio Exploration of Meaning

Stair as Geometry Stair as Expression Stair as Structure Stair as Surface Stair as Type Stair as Enclosure Stair as Instruction

8.8 8.9 8.10 8.11 8.12 8.13

Stair as Labyrinth Stair as Datum Stair as Inhabited Space Stair as Sound Stair as Experience Stair as Light and Heat

(9th C. BC) Lindos Acropolis - Rhodes, Greece (1923) Villa La Rouche - Paris, France - Le Corbusier (1987) Arab World Institute - Paris, France - Jean Nouvel (2002) University of Minnesota - Minneapolis, MN - Steven Holl

Physiological, Psychological, and Behavioral Timeline

The Body Ellipse The Defense Cycle The Ambulate Boundary The Sensory Zone

Ascent Single File Descent Single File Rush Hour Crowded Conditions Ascent and Descent With Landings Descending With Landings

Stair of Code vs. Stair of Reaction

9.0 Notes����������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������� 63


PART A | The Uncovered History The architect endures like an insidious stair, Architects fall! Vertical, unclear spaces lead an unclear, vertical architecture. Places forgotten like bashful histories, Stairs forgotten like bashful spaces. - Heather McWilliams



Initial Research Question Why has the architectural and cultural meaning of the stair been lost in the design of contemporary architecture and how can it be re-enlivened both historiographically and materially to enrich the vital intermediary between the human body and the built environment?



Research Abstract Since the 1900’s, the system of building regulations in the U.S. has made the stair so constrained by the boundaries imposed upon its physical dimensions that the fundamental experience of the stair has been determined in response to shifting architectonic and cultural goals, rather than from the theoretical and experiential refinements that I believe could save the relegation of the stair. More often than not, stairs today are treated as a necessary nuisance and built to the minimum that codes will permit, with low levels of comfort and convenience and ultimately making people reluctant to use them1. The building codes we follow on a daily basis have literally sucked the life out of architecture and because of it, our opportunity as architects to be creative, insightful, and considerate of the people that occupy our buildings has been lost. This thesis attempts to develop new principles and alternatives for better stair design, in order to surpass the necessary nuisance of permissible building codes.


2.1 Character to Domestication This thesis is not an argument against the regulations of the International Building Codes or the importance of its safety, but rather a statement that these codes have simply made the stair become so domesticated that it now has zero to little character. Take for example, the typical high rise or tall apartment building in the United States today. The stair is only permitted to slyly hide in the corners of its structure as the emergency exit, relegated to a secondary role in vertical circulation. Or the discussion of the outside fire escape as a system of iron balconies and ladders. The stair of the early 1900’s was abandoned and replaced with a system of the protected interior stairs because of its lack of safety during life threatening fires, but it only took less than a century for architects, lawmakers, and property owners to consider the interior fire exit as an eye sore to the human eye. This kind of suppressed behavior began in the latter half of the nineteenth century when building codes began to take a lead on design decisions and imposed boundaries that began to regard the stair as a wasted space 2. They claimed to be difficult to fit into a home, they occupied unavailable living spaces, and most importantly they became a nuisance for people to even use. So not only has the stair become so marginalized and unattractive, but today it doesn’t even consider the symbolic nature of human experience. Physiologically speaking, the human body is the central mediator in transferring knowledge between the building, the brain, and human movement should not be considered outside the domain of architecture 3. This thesis challenges the physical, physiological and behavioral interactions between the human inhabitant and the stair. There is curiosity in the phenomenon between the architectural and cultural significance of the stair and how they might impose dialogues with the people that used them.

Stairs also possess multiple characters and personalities, and in order to understand it, this thesis challenges architects to approach the stair from many directions. Progressively through time, the stair has become an element that is misunderstood for its visual and symbolic implications. Without turning to history, the stair can seem to be limited. Stairs of all types, shapes, and sizes from early BC to today share common architectural identities and within the assembly of a compendium, we can build a deeper comprehensive and cultural awareness of the stairs identity in the contemporary built environment. The significance of the stair and the relationship it has to the human body must be reconstituted in architecture schools, architecture firms, and building codes, as well as in the existing buildings we encounter on a day-to-day basis. Architecture is part of the art of living and it is most successful when it gives expression to the life of the inhabitants. Because of the contemporary economic pressure to deliver the most for the least, the stair - which is a necessary element- could possibly become a critical aesthetic opportunity for architects to design, as necessary as it is to the functionality of any structure. The objective of this thesis is to investigate the architectural phenomenon of the stair and argue that it is an ample form of architecture that needs to be recognized for its commanding responsibilities, and to ultimately respond to the domesticated regulations of building codes with new principles and alternatives to better stair design.




Staircase vs. Means of Egress “To make a complete staircase is a curious piece of architecture�


- Sir Henry Wotton

The element of the stair will continue to become degraded until it is no longer architectural in the poetic sense and rather reduced to a base that exists purely to fulfill a pragmatic function. If we continue to react this way, we are not and will not be successful architects. If we continue to be reluctant to design stairs, then people will be reluctant to use them. We, as architects, have a chief responsibility to people who occupy space, and we are responsible for the experiences that these people take away from it.




3.1 Loss of Meaning We no longer design stairs. We design “means of egress�. This is a stair that is no longer celebrated and instead ruled by safety regulations, small budgets, and fire codes. This is a stair that has become an inconvenience to the designer and most importantly it is now an inconvenience to the inhabitants that are forced to occupy this space.




3.2 Representing Something More This is a stair. This is what a stair is and what a stair should be. A stair that was once used to convey loftiness and stateliness and was used to elevate the ordinary in a physical way. Since ancient times this is a stair that was represented as something more than just going up and down.










Systematic statement of a body of rules that govern and constrain the design, construction, alteration, and repair of buildings. Such codes are based on requirements for the safety, health, and quality of life of building users and neighbors, and vary from city to city4.


Standard Building Code is established

An official system of building regulations are developed in the United States


EARLY 1900’s


Earliest requirement for 7-11 stairs in non-residential buildings


Uniform Building Code is established

UBC requires a geometry of 8 inch risers and 9 inch treads



BOCA National Building Code is established


Building Code History The specialization of building requirements have indeed given us a safer environment to live in, but codes are now threatening our comprehension to design expressive pieces of architecture without any of us even recognizing the fact. We are so grounded by the rules that even the knowledge of where the building codes came from is scarcely known and even if you try to find the earliest documentation of building codes, there is no statement or reasoning as to where or why the code is necessary. It just is.


The first edition of the International Building Code was published


1992 code specified 8 1/4” maximum riser, 9” minimum tread]

The ICC [International Code Council] is formed


BOCA requires residential stairs to have a 7-11” geometry [Before


EARLY 1990’s

A controlled need for a single set of model building codes is realized


Beginning in the early 1900’s the system of building regulations in the U.S. was based on three regional model building codes: The BOCA National Building Code, The Standard Building Code, and the Uniform Building Code 5. The codes proved to be effective and responsive to the regulatory needs of the local jurisdictions, but to what standard. It was not until 1990 that the country agreed to form a single coordinated set of national building codes and in 1997 is when the first edition of the International Building Code was published 6.


4.1 BOCA Basic Building Code Developed by the Building Officials Code Administrators International, otherwise known as BOCA, this document covered the entire East Coast and partial states of the Midwest. Established in 1915, the first code book was published in 1950 and within one year it was adopted by fifty cities. The BOCA code specified 8 1/4 inch maximum riser heights and 9 inch minimum tread depths. The model changed minimally until 1989 - right before the organization joined forces and established the IBC - when the model code started to require residential stairs to have risers no greater than 7 inches and treads no less than 11 inches. This is the building code we know today 7.


4.2 Uniform Building Code Published in 1927 by the International Conference of Building Officials (ICBO), these standards covered the West Coast and most of the Midwest. Like BOCA, the UBC promoted public safety and provided standardized requirements for safe construction that was consistent from city to city. Before the early 1980’s the building code required the stair geometry to be 9 inch riser, 8 inch treads. But from 1982 to 1997, the code changed and stayed consistent with a required 8 inch riser, 9 inch tread geometry. The ICBO code did not require 7-11 stair geometry for non-residential uses until 1985 and had never required a 7-11 geometry for one or two family dwellings 8.


4.3 Standard Building Code The Southern Building Code Congress International (SBCCI) formed the Standard Building Code in 1946 for the entire southeast corner of the country. Although most of the documented requirements have become impossible to recover, the requirements stood fairly relevant to that of BOCA’s and carried a standard rise to run dimension of 8-11 and has never required a 7-11 geometry for any user group 9.


4.4 International Building Code (IBC) Developed by the formation of the three regional code groups, and now recognized as the International Code Council (ICC), the International Building Code took over three years to develop after all regional groups combined their efforts and patterned together to complete one statewide document. Since 1994 all jurisdictions within all 50 states and the District of Columbia have adopted the IBC 10.


Riser Max. 8” (Riser Min. 6”)


(Max. 16” Tread)

Riser Max. 9”

(Riser Min. 5”)


(Max. 12” Tread)



Min. 9” Tread

Min. 8” Tread

Min. 10” Tread

Riser Max. 7.37”

Riser Max. 8.25”

Riser Max. 8.25”

(Riser Min. 8”)

(Riser Min. 8”)

Riser Max. 7.75”

Riser Max. 7.75”

Min. 10” Tread


(Tread Max. 9”)

Min. 10” Tread


(Tread Max. 9”)


Min. 8.25” Tread




Min. 8.25” Tread

Min. 11” Tread

Riser Max. 7”

Riser Max. 7”

(Riser Min. 4”)

(Riser Min. 4”)

Min. 11” Tread

4.5 Building Code Standards [and shifting stair geometries] The major model code organizations have historically accepted a variety of stair geometries. Most handbooks including those of BOCA, SBCCI, and ICBO modified stair and riser dimensions during the late 1970’s and early 1980’s although they have always imposed less stringent requirements for residential buildings as compared to other user groups 11.



The Problem with Safety Requirements “Stairs have been retained as the back up system - a role that is no less important because it is supportive. The stair becomes the route of last resort where the potential for catastrophe demands a design that will always be safe and convenient� - John Templer


5.1 Why We Need Them Building codes are an important part of a modern building system, and they continuously prove to be effective and responsive to regulatory needs of the local jurisdictions, but to what standards make the stair safe? We need safety requirements to regulate and meet the goals of accessibility and health but we also need comprehensive design that meets the goals of human experience and cultural and symbolic implications.


Published building codes do not reveal why or how requirements are set

“Stair geometries do not substantiate any direct link between stair geometry and user safety” [accidents leading to personal injury] NAHB RESEARCH CENTER (1992)



5.2 Why They Are Not Accurate Although responsive to the safety of building design, the International Building Code does not reveal why or how requirements are set. Even though it suggests that a 7 inch riser and an 11 inch tread is the safest geometry for stair design, in the case of stair accidents, there are no reports that indicate a valid relationship between riser and tread dimensions and the accident itself 12. Secondly, a large portion of the International Building Code deals with fire prevention in regard to construction and design and the code book itself totals over 700 pages without a single page explaining the reason why a code has been specifically set. Inside the book, the only definition of a staircase exists in the phrase “means of egress”, and it refers to the ability to exit the structure, primarily in the event of an emergency exit 13. The only valid research that has been observed in regards to the determined 7-11 geometry is that it has the potential to influence housing costs significantly and limits the amount of space required for stairs in order to redeem what others call “wasted space”. So the only valid reason for the 7-11 stair is the purpose of economics.


5.3 Why We Should Reconsider Them If indeed the staircase is only regulated because of its ability to cut costs and save space, then we have failed as architects to be inspired and insightful in our design. We are being informed by developers and others for whom architecture is a pro-forma equation. If in fact that the geometry of the stair was only determined because of a common number of regional codes and not based on the safety of the people that use them, then why isn’t it possible to surpass the building code and begin to design stairs that actually matter. Stairs that are related to the human experience, stairs that elevate an ordinary response to architecture into one that relates to the significance of our culture. If we were to take what we now know about the evolution of stair geometry and building codes [as little as it may be] and we exceed what is expected in the design of a staircase, then we can begin to acknowledge the same emotions of architecture and the elements of the stair that only history conveys. Have we forgotten the origin of stairs? Ancient temples were built to be approached by a ceremonial staircase and Greek amphitheaters served as an organization of high order.Vitruvius and Alberti wrote of the stair as being veins and arteries of buildings. Stairs can give expression to the life of the inhabitant and we must reconsider the approach to building codes in order to save the domestication of it.


STAIR SAFETY A Review of the Literature and Data Concerning Stair Geometry and Other Characteristics 1.0 INTRODUCTION For the first time in any U.S. model building code, the 1992 edition of the BOCA National Building Code requires residential stairs to have risers no greater than 7 inches and treads no less than 11 inches. Before 1992, the BOCA code specified 8¼-inch maximum riser heights and 9-inch minimum tread depths. This 7-11 geometry, as it is known, has the potential to influence housing costs significantly, particularly the cost of entry-level affordable housing. The primary objective of this report is to assess the state of knowledge with regard to the role of riser and tread dimensions in accidental falls on residential stairways. A more specific

purpose is to examine existing sources of data and research and to determine what they indicate about the safety performance of various stair geometries. The study, therefore, involved an examination of statistical data and a literature review. A secondary objective of the report is to identify other features or characteristics of stairs that potentially play a role in stair safety. Thus, the study also included a review of literature to identify other stair features or characteristics possibly related to stair safety. Section 2 of this report discusses stair geometry in general. Section 3 discusses the major sources of statistical information and reviews the research contained in the existing literature. Sections 4 and 5 present conclusions and recommendations. A brief description of other potential safety features of stairs is contained in Appendix A. For the readers convenience, two indices have been provided at the end of this work. The first is an index of the titles of all articles reviewed. The second is an index of authors’ surnames, organizational names, acronyms, periodical names, and other terms frequently used in citations to the literature. The Research Center’s evaluation of five key studies was subjected to an external review. The reviewer’s comments are included as the final appendix to this document. Some of the results of that review have been integrated into this report, but the reviewer’s comments should be consulted directly for additional information. 2.0 BACKGROUND

Stairs are one of the more difficult items to fit into a home. Not only is the space they occupy typically unavailable for living space or other uses but the location of stairs heavily influences the remainder of the floor plan. Various approaches have been devised over the years to limit the space required for stairs or to regain some of the lost space for other uses. Approaches have included the use of spiral stairs, winders, alternating tread devices, and even elevators. However, with the exception of the increasing use of winders, no other solution has seriously penetrated a market dominated by conventional straight-run stairs. FIG 7: NAHB RESEARCH CENTER




Accurate Response to Building Codes The process of architecting a stair is like wrangling a tiger; fantastic, beautiful, and complex yet unruly, wild and likely to possess unfortunate consequences in the event of careless handling at the same time. – Sir Henry Wotton

How do we not meet code but surpass it? How do we develop new principles and alternatives that move us towards a better stair design? Architects should be determining the fundamental use of the stair through theoretical and empirical refinements that collectively improve the building code, rather than binding to shifting architectonic and capitalist goals. It is evident that architecture is always more than just building. It represents the link between buildings and culture, and it gives meaning to the experience of living. We as architects have and continue to design buildings for human life, for human comfort. The human inhabitant should most definitely always be the inspiration for design and the reason for imagining a space. If architects respond to the building code by assimilating the physical, physiological and behavioral interactions between the human inhabitant and the stair, then its phenomenon of existence can be reclaimed.


6.1 Relationships to Human Behaviors The human body inspired the Egyptians, Greeks, and even Le Corbusier’s work in architecture. Decosterd and Rahm, Evan Douglis, Diller and Scofidio and several other contemporary practices also consider the human body as a principle for architectural design 14. The presence of the human figure was and still is absolutely indispensable. Perhaps the evolution of the technology of architecture required the understanding of productive systems within buildings, and dematerialized the expression of sensory demands. For example, we allow A/C units and ductwork to ventilate, we once used louvers, shade, and windows. Architects operating within conventional practices in the United States seldom consider the human body as an expressed or implied reference for architecture in total, let alone the specific condition of the staircase, which ultimately heightens the extinction of the staircase.


It is necessary that architects recognize that the stair was once an important space for human communication and that it has to be given back its appropriate significance in the surface of a building. The stair holds an array of responsibilities beyond just the vertical movement that society is familiar with, and as it was acknowledged previously, the human body is the main transmitter of knowledge between the building and the brain.




Architectural Phenomenon and Stair History History tells us that the stair influenced moments of hope and moments of fear, inspired minds, and influenced the built monuments of their time. But contemporary design has begun to tell us that the stair lacks potential for meaningful architecture. If the stair was to be considered a form of place rather than a secondary building component, then perhaps the entire architectural form will convey a more meaningful and experiential space for its users. This is the creative challenge we should strive towards. In order to frame a strong and contentious thesis, we must investigate the processes of building design in today’s working field in order to identify where the problem lays and where we need to improve.The challenge then is to examine what already exists and recognize elements of the built stair that contributes towards a more meaningful and essential topic in all means of architecture. “The territory of the stair is relevant in today’s culture but it is recognized as something that is rather mundane. If we research the controversy of the stair from all periods of the built form, we can discover how pertinent the stair is to our life and our buildings.” 15


7.1 Earliest Examples of Stairs The earliest known example of the stair after its evolution from the ladder is in the Catal Hayuk settlement in 6000 BCE. Composed entirely of domestic buildings, the purpose of the settlement remains unclear. The inhabitants lived in small mud-brick houses that had no footpaths or streets between each house and as a result, each dwelling was accessed by holes in the ceiling with doors reached by ladders and stairs 16. To its users, the stair required only its basic functionality and safety but its simplicity gave the stair an alluring quality 17. Since then, the stair has changed considerably over time. The Romanesque spiral staircase across Europe in the late 10th century had no source of light, and fulfilled the purpose of transporting people up and down stairs like a vertical corridor. The outer skin of the staircase in 12th century France was articulated by Gothic arcades, columns, and tracery while light penetrated within. By the mid 16th century the Spanish Renaissance staircase provoked empty walls and elaborate steps that defined the interior space as a free standing element 18. In Italian architecture of the Renaissance, the staircase remained a separate, self contained element that was vaulted, enclosed and visually separate from courtyards and spaces in the building. In Baroque palaces of the 17th century, the well of the staircase became a representative hall with gorgeous detail and oversized treads. Roman churches and palaces dramatically used the stair to express triumphant power and control and gradually embellished the staircase into a uniquely different form. Right before the Industrial Revolution arrived in the 19th century and spread from Western Europe to the United States, curved stairs became an expression of worldly inhabitation and were constructed of natural stone with minimal thickness and generous gaps between flights 19. As modernity pushed on, and with the development of the elevator in the latter half of the 19th century after the war, space was cut down for economic reasons and a parallel invention with new building types of high rise structures. This shift ultimately left the stair behind as an economically inefficient object. Elevators became the “dominant architectural symbol of movement� and the stair became a secondary utility that provided only access and egress 20. Furthermore, when architects started giving the building over to all sorts of functional systems like HVAC and A/C we also gave the building over to the vertical lift systems. We really do not use the body at all or treat the building like a body much like the architects did in history.



FIG: 19-25










4. Therefore, since nature has designed the human body so that its members are duly proportioned to the frame as a whole, it appears that the ancients had good reason for their rule, that in perfect buildings the different members must be in exact symmetrical relations to the whole general scheme. 5. Further, it was from the members of the body that they derived the fundamental ideas of the measures which are obviously necessary in all works, as the finger, palm, foot, and cubit.




The placing of the Stairs is a Work of such Nicety, that without deliberate and mature Consideration you can never place them well: that the Stairs should perplex the Design of a Structure; but let him that is desirous to have the Stair not hinder him, take Caré not to hinder the Stair. In making of Stair−cases with Steps, they recommend the making of the Steps in odd Numbers, and especially in their Temples: Because they said that by this Means we always set our right Foot into the Temple first; which was accounted a Point of Religion. And I have observed, that the best Architects never put above seven, or at most nine Steps together in one Flight; imitating I su pose, the Number either of the Planets or of the Heavens; but at the End of these seven or nine Steps, they very considerately made a Plain, that such as were weak or tired with the Fatigue of the Ascent, might have Leisure to rest themselves, and that if they should chance to stumble, there might be a Place to break their Fall, and give them Means to recover themselves.



LEARNING FROM PALLADIO [FOUR BOOKS OF ARCHITECTURE] CHAPTER I. Internal staircases rarely played an important role in Palladio’s designs; he

seems to have shared Alberti’s view that the staircase is a nuisance that compromises the ideal spatial organization of the building. In specifying the dimensions of steps, Palladio differs from Alberti and Vitruvius. Both Vitruvius and Alberti gave nine inches as the maximum riser height, with a minimum of two inches. Palladio corrected this to a maximum of six and a minimum of four inches. In his view, the depth of the tread should be between twelve and eighteen inches, and the depth should be no more than eleven or thirteen steps. The width of the stair should never be less than four feet.

7.2 Vitruvius, Palladio, and Alberti Vitruvius in the first century BC set down the earliest known design guideline for stair layout. He wrote, “The rise of such steps should be limited to not more than ten or less than nine inches, for then to ascent will not be difficult. The treads of the step out to be made not less than a foot and a half, and not more than two feet deep” 21 . He recognized that monumental buildings may require these recommendations to be modified but ever since, the quest for the perfect relationship of riser to tread, and stair pitch, has been a kind of designer’s philosopher’s stone. Alberti, writing about fifteen centuries later, noted that the Romans and Greeks never made steps higher than 9 inches or lower than 5 inches and treads were always less than a foot or no more than a yard. His facts were incorrect. Alberti’s approach was to try to define limits for risers and treads, in much the same way that many building codes do today. He adhered to principles of classical Roman architecture based on mathematical proportions rather than the rich ornamental style of the Renaissance 22. Influenced by both Alberti and Vitruvius, Palladio studied decorative styles, classical orders and materials. He felt that the symmetry, perspective and values of the staircase was easily understand. Palladio’s staircases were considered a technical device that was enclosed in a separate room but became the building’s internal matrix 23.



7.3 Exploration of Meaning Through history it is shown that the function of the staircase determines its form and at the same time shapes the enclosing space. A short glance at history shows the changing emphasis which was given to the staircase. The lessons we choose to take from history teach us the roles that the stair possess and gives examples to define the importance of the re-invention of the stair. Not only does this context give proof that today’s restricted geometries do not define its pure existence, but that the historical relationship between the human inhabitant and the stair is a determinate cause for something that is considered monumental.



Compendium of Stairs It is necessary to reconsider both the traditional principles and processes of design in order to understand and appreciate the stair as an architectural phenomenon. This thesis generates a dimension of research that takes the theoretical analysis of monumental stair types and organizes them into elements of communication. These elements investigate what responses of the stair - in relation to the human experience - are deemed valuable to its existence. These elements are absolutely necessary conditions that have been overlooked in the design of the stair and this compendium reconsiders them to be inherently important in how architects imagine the stair. The essential objective to formulate a connection between what is imposed and what is natural to the stair, enriches the understanding of the stair’s potential and makes architects aware of its sheer complexity and significance. The collection here is diverse but not random. Not all are monumental staircases, some may be familiar, others less so. Two particular themes have informed the choices of examples that analyze and are where many architectural ideas cluster. The first theme concerns the different types of space the stair occupies. The second concerns the different ways in which the human being is the component of the stair. These themes collectively contract the investigation to a singular and deeper application, in order to identify clear elements of communication.






Building codes become a priority when designing and constructing a stair type. Stair treads and risers shall be of uniform size and shape while the stair tread shall be 11 inches minimum and the riser should be less than or equal to 7 他 inches. The strict geometries of the stair reinforce an important human relationship that measures rhythm, comfort, and fatigue.

Take for example the Laurentian Library . The staircase consists of three different flights of steps that move the inhabitant from the vestibule into the reading room. The outer stairs are quadrangular shaped, the central stairs are convexed shaped, and the bottom three steps are completely elliptical. The convex treads vary in width and according to various sources, make the entire arrangement unsettling to inhabit. But the boldness and grace of the conspicuous and confusing scale make the space work as a whole. This confusing scale of the staircase came from the influence of the Mannerism era in 16th century Italy, when form and proportions were made to deliberately disorder the spatial relationships between figures and decorative features 24.

Stair climbing and the proportions of riser to tread share a relationship in the energy outflow of the human body. In fact, the human pace is specifically related to the fatiguing act of climbing stairs and the riser-tread ratio. High risers with small treads are no more fatiguing than much lower risers with large treads, within certain limits. The dimensions of risers and treads control the pace we take on the stair and the comfortability we feel while ascending or descending. Where the tread size is below 11 inches, people descending are compelled to step with their feet sideways so that the tread can accommodate the whole foot. But, as the tread size increases over the 11 inches, there is a point where the stair cannot be negotiated with ease. These type of physical demands are the ideal notion of geometry and what it means to design a human centralized staircase.


OLIVETTI SHOWROOM CARLO SCARPA Venice, Italy 1958 Alternatively, the Olivetti Showroom was considered a space of rehabilitation for Carlo Scarpa that carried a dialogue between the old and the new 27. The individual stone slabs that make up the stair make the space appear to float weightlessly, even though its supporting brass rods remained obvious. The gap of material in the riser seem to enhance the power to resist time and habit while still unfolding the historical boundaries of the building.



Paris, France 1925

Prague, Czech Republic 1930

Villa la Roche by Le Corbusier followed an interestingly similar approach to Michelangelo’s change in spatial relationships, although Corbusier managed the idea in a more humanistic approach. Villa La Roche was completed in 1925 right when Corbusier was first establishing the architectural promenade 25 . He carefully placed the stairs to “orchestrate movement across the layers of spaces”, and used the space of the footprint to measure the rhythm of the stair. In return, each tread was made to be longer in order to slow down the inhabitant and ease them through the space.

Another interesting case of geometry is the stairs of Villa Muller in Czech Republic. The overall scheme of the house represented Loos’ approach to economy and functionality and the contiguous spaces of the entire house merged together and informed the locations of the stair. This geometry of spatial design was later defined as Raumplan and space was treated as volume rather than surface. To Loos, the horizontal dimensions of the stair did not matter and rather the depth and height of the stair became the main building requirement in his design 26.

WIEDEN KENNEDY AGENCY Allied Works Architecture




Norman Foster

Portland, Oregon | 2000

Minneapolis, Minnesota 2002

Southwark, London 2002

Another rehabilitation project similar to that of the Olivetti Showroom, the design for the Wieden Kennedy Agency was formed by making a clear connection between interior and exterior, public and private, and the old vs. the new. The stairs became a priority to regulate visual connections and to manage gatherings, performances and exhibitions. Multi-faceted, the stair also serves the purpose of an atrium and in response considers the altering of tread and riser geometry to allow the inhabitant to make choices about their direction.

The detail and scale are especially important for this stair because it is designed to be an emergency exit. Although the staircase meets the needs of the International Building Code, Steven Holl exceeds its expectations by making the 7-11 geometry an example of sequential rhythms rather than just being something that is effective and not spatial. The grandeur scale of the stairs and the various landings slow the reader down but the shape of the stair speeds them up in a continuous harmony.

The value of economics not only determined the unusual shape of the building but also the structure of the staircase. In order to improve energy efficiency, Foster intended to reduce surface area by designing a 500 meter helical stairway that ascends the full height of the building 28. The long stair treads not only save the overwhelming nature of climbing the stairs, but it gives the inhabitant to take long moments of pause. The curvature of the staircase also influences the overall rhythm of the inhabitants walking patterns, especially when descending the staircase.





The stair may express many things about its purpose, context and use, its location, the influence of material, the way it was designed and built, the skill of the architect, the intentions of the mind that conceives it, and the way it is maintained or neglected. The indication of feeling and character in a staircase establishes the notion of ascending and descending as a form of ritual that allows the user to interpret the space as something of importance. Whether directly applied to the design of the stair or accidently placed in the context of its location, a stair can express many things about the architect that designed the space, the client that agreed to the structure of the stair, and the reason for the material of the staircase. On the contrary, the staircase can also enforce the value of culture and what it means to position to the stair in the same manner it was built centuries ago. The presentation of religious beliefs, company morals, or even the rotation of the sun can begin to change the expression of the stair.


ST. PAUL’S CATHEDRAL Sir Christopher Wren London, United Kingdom 1705

A Church of England cathedral, the building occupies a significance place in the national identity of the English population, and when it was burned down from the great fire of London, Wren tackled the cathedral as part of a major rebuilding program 29. Managing to complete the project after five general phases of designs, the staircase was the only element of the project that stayed consistent with Wren’s plans. Sometimes mistaken as the Whispering Gallery, this staircase stretches 99 feet inside the inner dome of the cathedral and was once the staircase for a single person, leading to the door of the Dean 30. Wren’s ability to capture the culture of the English heritage and the remembrance of what once was, allows the stair to accentuate the proportion and spirituality.




Weimar, Germany 1926

Queens, New York 1962

New Haven Connecticut 1974

As previously mentioned, Bauhaus was a testament to the architectonic ideas that Gropius practiced. The intention to design a complex building without a central viewpoint was one that not only amplified the corners of the structure but it also heightened the value of the staircase. The stairs literally became a rationally articulated volume that grasped to the architecture rather than the mass of its concrete material. As a result, Gropius’ programmatic elements of design became less important while the staircase became the inevitable purpose to visit the space. And although the stair shuns ornamentation, it favored functionality and gave several options for direction and correspondence.

A building to ‘capture the spirit of flight’, Eero Saarinen designed an airport that could express itself the drama and excitement of travelling. When the airport opened it was a standalone terminal that was described as a “huge bird in mid air with its wings spread ready for landing” 31. Although the exterior is an example of flight, it doesn’t do justice to the spaces of the interior. Saarinen used curves to create spaces that flowed into one another and several staircases connected each space like a ribbon. Not only does this building and its stairs express the exact representation of its overall purpose for travel but it enforces the scenes in which a rushed inhabitant experiences while traveling from one place to the next.

SEATTLE CITY HALL Bohlin Cywinski Jackson Bassetti

AN GAELARAS O’Donnell & Tuomey

Seattle, Washington 2005

Derry, Ireland 2009

Completely fulfilling its purpose as a city hall, this building does more than just the inter workings of business and public interventions. Symbolically, the building’s design was to evoke the spirit of the Northwest and reflect the city’s rising international profile of civility and livability 32. More importantly, the structure celebrates the sloping site it sits on with an open grand stair that stretches from the interior of the building to the exterior. The expression of stone in the material is the attempt to connect with the site.

The emphasis of natural materials provides a key relationship between its structure and the internal courtyards. As a cultural center, the building was intended for visitors to come and go and conceive the space at their own will. More importantly, the element of the staircases support the architects idea for slowing down the activity of ‘doing’ and encouraging the wonder of collective spacings.

The Yale Center for British Art is a good example of when a stair of expression is accidently placed in the context of its location. The massive concrete cylinder that conceals the spiral staircase indeed dominates the library courtyard, but it was not Kahn intention to reveal it as the main circulation path. The intimate galleries and learning spaces are the central elements for the design of the building while the staircase was simply an elegant connection between the spaces. Made more beautiful than intended to be, the geometric shape of the staircase and the subtle spatial interconnection allows for smooth circulation and surprising glimpses into exhibits, courtyards and classrooms.





The stair’s structure creates the space or spaces that define architecture and provide stability in the arrangement of surfaces. When compositions of structural elements are expressed clearly in the stair, the vertical and oblique movements of the human through space multiply the experience 33. The composition of parts in a stair can be organized in a way that enhances the inhabitant’s interpretation of the space. The complex system can also organize a series of pathways that build the inhabitant’s sense of wonder and contemplation. The relationship between architectural components and how they are used can entice people to choose the stair over an elevator or a ramp. The structure of a stair can also trigger comfort in the user’s ability to ascend or descend a staircase. When a stair is reinforced with visible structure, people tend to trust the stair’s ability to motion them from one floor to the next. On the contrary, when a stair is visually limited in structural elements, the user sends second thoughts to their brain, contemplating the choice to resign ascending or descending. For example, when a stair is designed to be transparent in the open space of a lobby and has a structure of simply glass and cables, the stair can be considered dangerous to the naked eye. When people have the ability to look below the surface of where their foot lies, a sense of instability presents itself, making the trip from one floor to the next unbearable.



London, United Kingdom 1705 Built of Portland Stone in the late Renaissance, the complex combination of space and proportion accentuate the relevance of structure and its distribution of the stair. Each stone tread is set into the wall and is carefully shaped to the tread below. There is literally no other support. The treads of the staircase set 150th of a mm into the wall and yet convey a sense of structural stability. It is important that the connection from stair to wall influences the inhabitant’s abilities to climb it and that the elegant response to structure informs security 33.


MALAPARTE HOUSE Adalberto Libera


Capri, Italy 1943

Paris, France 1987

Only possible to reach by traversing the island, this house emphasizes the expression of self dramatization. Screaming for attention, the staircase acts a reverse pyramidal roof that leads to a roof patio. The composition of the rooms were encouraged by the slope of the staircase while the width of the steps provided security even when handrails remained absent.

The structure is what makes the stair. The stair is what makes the structure. Without the keen sense of form and material, the stair does not embody the qualities that it should.

TOLO HOUSE ALVARO SIZA Districto de Vila Real, Portugal 2005 Appearing to move naturally and with absolute freedom, the house itself is a path for experience. For reasons of functionality, the main entrance was fragmented in order to manage the steep topography and in order to utilize the most space, the staircase became a composition of linked volumes that were informed by the exposed concrete structure. More importantly the exterior staircase that was integrated in the roof of the house, corresponded to the interior placement of ceilings and skylight panels.





By exploring the stairs intuitively, and by using them, the mind assesses and makes “place�, a place to sit, a place to climb, a place that is sacred, a place warmed by the sun. Many of the uses of the stair were evident to the mind before the built stair was invented. By inhabiting the stairs, the primitive and psychological relationship between humans and stairs is made profoundly simple; an interface between space that can be occupied and the indeterminate masses of solid that cannot. The stair as surface means to appear openly. The stair itself is an act of vertical motion that moves the user from one space to another but it is also a boundary between what can and cannot be occupied. The void beneath a staircase becomes an uncertainty and most likely something that is overlooked by the users on the stair. When a stair changes the user’s perception of indeterminate masses, the stair personifies new ways in which the user will assess its significance. Stairs can also be a surface of invitation. For example, when a stair gives people a vantage point, it provides an opportunity to take in the surrounding actions as a whole. When a stair puts the user in action, it provides the opportunity for inhabitants to be more than just onlookers. If a stair is to provide a surface for both of these predispositions, the user is more likely willing to occupy the space.


MALAPARTE HOUSE Adalberto Libera Capri, Italy 1943 What makes this stair so obvious as a component of surface is that the entire house was influenced by the life of Malaparte and it was built to resemble not only a palace but a temple and a prison. The psychological relationship between the inhabitant and the structure of the stair became a pathway for retreat and peace. The modernist simplicity of the form encouraged the stair to build a simultaneous connection between water, stone, wind and mass.

NOTRE-DAME DU HAUT Le Corbusier Ronchamp, France 1955 The first tread of the staircase is given a separate treatment to the rest of the stairs. Perhaps Le Corbusier’s approach to solitude became a vertical motion that would symbolize a separation between earthly and spiritual realms. The primitive use of thin steel and steep risers were intended for the inhabitant to produce emotional shock when they occupied the stair.

WIEDEN KENNEDY AGENCY Allied Works Architecture

TOLO HOUSE Alvaro Siza

Portland, Oregon | 2000

Districto de Vila Real, Portugal 2005

The use of the stairs became a combined nature of work and performance. Allied Works Architecture approached this building with perceptions of making space to strengthen culture and community. The stairs become a surface to sit, to eat, to rest and most importantly an open place for human communication. The stair is an opportunity to change the perception of business hierarchies and the emphasis of teamwork and neighborliness.

The Tolo House is a perfect example for stairs to become an open invitation for place making, although the unevenness of the stair and the surrounding terrain is what makes the space questionable. From a distance the house looks just like a pathway to the receding landscape but once the inhabitant exposes themselves to the transformation of living, the staircase begins the alter the assessment to climb the path. An interesting play between privacy and public invitations, this stair is an example of how surfaces can create boundaries.





The stair affects the occupation of space in different ways depending on the type of stair that is built. They can provide security or they can provoke resentment. They can be used responsibly or irresponsibly. The examination of basic stair types can enable what the architect can and cannot do with a building’s surrounding spaces. Whether it’s a straight stair, spiral stair, freestanding, circular, or elliptical, the function of a stair remains the same while the experience of the human body changes significantly. In relation to the building that the stair is designed to stand or connect to, the type of staircase can inform the way the user feels about the space while classifying the clarity of accomplishment. In a sense, the type of stair can either support the experience of the entire building or it can contradict the experience from outside to inside.



Florence Italy 1571

Poissy, France 1931

Take for example the staircase at Laurentian Library by Michelangelo. A visitor with no background in Michelangelo’s architectural thought would experience a sense of tension and compression while walking through the vestibule, and of tranquility and release while crossing into the reading room 34 . This moment of changing emotions is only present due to the complexity of the stair type and the mixture of stair types for that matter. Although not considered ideal in stair design, Michelangelo’s example serves true to the idea that type forms occupation.

Another example of the architectural promenade, Villa Savoye super cedes the term circulation by offering varied levels of access and most importantly a staircase that centralizes the entire body of the house 35. The stair was compared to the spiral of the coils on the inner ear as well as the golden section that Corbusier modeled several times throughout his career. This type of stair became a main feature for a lot of buildings in the architectural promenade while it enforced a spatial sequence for the inhabitant to experience.

SALVADOR DALI MUSEUM HOK St.. Petersburg, Florida 1982

Housing the largest collection of Dali’s work, the museum is a retrospective model of juxtaposition and the allure for double helix shapes. The coiled concrete staircase is a new example of what a spiral may be in the design of architecture. The stairs speak to the surreal life of Dali without being too over worn by previous models.


MALAPARTE HOUSE Adalberto Libera


Capri, Italy 1943

Zurich, Switzerland 1967

Considered to be an interpretation of surrealism, the reversed pyramidal stair exists in the surrounding environment as a responsible correspondence to the islands jagged edge. The staircase’s trapezoidal shape creates a startling wedge on one end and crowned with a surface for rest.

This discrete standalone tower is a staircase known for its harmonic unity of Le Corbusier’s elements of the architectural promenade. The dog leg geometry of the tower cantilever out from either side of a concrete slab and generate an experiential plane of depth. This type of stair is a clear expression of the dramatic responses to the human body. The first tread of each flight is separated conspicuously from the main structure and as a result it informs the inhabitant of a staircase different from others.

FRITZ B. BURNS ACADEMIC CENTER FRANK GEHRY Los Angeles, California 2002 The occupation of the ‘zig zag’ stair type is an unfamiliar shape that could possibly be a revival from the exterior fire escape in the early 1900’s. Gehry chose to design a zagging element in order to create wonderment in the inhabitant and influence everyday use. When classes break, the stairs are covered with people running up and down them and in return compliments the people that fill up the plaza below. The essential play between inside, outside, and the surface of the inhabitant, the ‘zig zag’ stair successfully enables the inhabitant to make their own decisions in the space. 46




An enclosing stair can establish a defined area of ground that separates a place from everywhere else. The stair can protect something sacred, align directions, provide a frame for thought, alter the climate in a space, protect from enemies, hide a place of pleasure, or they can relate to the natural topography of the ground. The staircase in a sense can become its own environment. It can create a space that separates the user from its surrounding context while emotionally and physically altering the inhabitants’s perception of security. When the stair is considered to be enclosed it embodies territorial qualities that provide the inhabitant with a sensation of freedom; the ability to feel able to do whatever they want in the space.



FALLINGWATER Frank Lloyd Wright

Poissy, France 1931

Mill Run, Pennsylvania 1939

In terms of the staircase in Villa Savoye, both form and texture became a manipulation of enclosure and the framing of planes and volumes. The staircase built an independent environment for the inhabitant to experience particular views of space. Within the ascension of the stair minimal frames of exterior places exist throughout the form and what Corbusier had discovered is that these minimal frames placed in a uniform manner, began to emotionally and physically control the inhabitant 36.

As determined previously, the staircase at Fallingwater was an integration within the natural environment and influenced by the release of compression. The stairway itself leads directly down to the stream below and ends before touching the water. With the low ceiling above and the instant disconnect from the interior spaces, the stair becomes a place for retreat. The stair becomes a powerful void and a place to capture self reflections.

MAXXI NATIONAL MUSEUM Zaha Hadid Rome, Italy 1998 A composition of bending oblong tubes that overlap, intersect and pile over one another, the building’s purpose to resemble a transport infrastructure was fully emphasized by the use of stairs. The connecting staircases create a dynamic and interactive space that allow for the inhabitant to forget about the large mass of the building. This a component of stair design that aligns directions and infuses the inhabitant to think quickly about their decisions while disregarding the physical value of structure, safety, and territory 37.

UNIVERSITY OF MINNESOTA, RAPSON HALL Steven Holl Minneapolis, Minnesota 2002

The restricted codes of fire safety require the enclosed tower of the staircase to be thick and heavy. Normally the use of concrete surrounding the human inhabitant can either be overwhelming for them to stay or it can encourage a place for security like Rapson Hall does. The concrete serves the purpose of safety and structure but it is formed in a way that only adds to the experience of the inhabitant. The altering of safety and comfort allows for this emergency exit to be an exciting place to visit, sit, and explore.





In the organization of space, the stairs are points of contact and control. They provide multiple functions and build relationships with the organization of routes. Built stairs can be categorized according to their role in the management and acquisition of space to modify the behavior of the inhabitant. A stair of instruction is a method that is aimed at changing attitudes and behavior, asking the inhabitant to conform to a particular environment. When the inhabitant’s role within the stair is altered to the organization of routes, the stair becomes the moment of a building that is most influential. Stairs also become a technology, tool, component of control, forcing the inhabitant to navigate to particular spaces. In the stair’s utility of instruction, the inhabitant can learn how to maneuver through space in a different manner than when walking on flat surfaces. The ability for the stair to organize the behavior of the people who use it is a powerful tool that should be specified to the design.

TEMPLE OF HATSHEPSUT SENEMUT Deir El-Bahri, Egypt 1460 BC Hatshepsut’s temple sits against a cliff that almost looks like it was built inside the mountains. Constructed for the Holy of Holies and the high priest, a chancellor oversaw the entire production and used the Temple of Mentuhoptep as a model for design 38. The approach to the temple was more thought out than the temple itself because Senemut knew it was important to elevate the route to afterlife and hierarchy of man. The approach was built with long ramps and hundreds of steps that extrude long treads in order to slowly built the ascension to the temple. Little to zero instruction is necessary for the inhabitant to know their position in reaching the temple. The staircase is a ritual for life and it is only then when the inhabitant can access the temple.

NOTRE-DAME DU HAUT Le Corbusier Ronchamp, France 1955 This staircase is a true example of how an inhabitant’s attitude and behavior are alternated once they approach and begin to ascend the stair. The stair’s role was intended only for the purpose of reaching the pulpit and was only inhabited by them who was closest to the higher power. Corbusier described the staircase as a “balanced silence where two quiet oblique lines are fused into a perfect movement of spiritual mechanics” 40. The route, the behavior, and the manner of control all play an essential role in the experience and use of the stair.




Paris, France 1925

Prague, Czech Republic | 1930

An order of instruction is not always made obvious when an inhabitant enters the house of promenade or is it even thought as a form of instruction because Le Corbusier does such a clever job of concealing it. Considered as“reorientation” in the promenade, human beings were thought to be “attracted towards the center of gravity” and Corbusier used the stair in Villa La Roche to suggest the inhabitant how to move through the space 39. The stair entices the inhabitant from a distance and once they approach the stair, it commends them to the next space.

The reason for the dismay of Loos’ design was claimed to treat space not as a surface but as a volume. His varied use of staircases is what this author believes to be Loos’ way - perhaps only way - to instruct the inhabitants through the space in a fluid manner that ensured proximity and distance between private and social spaces. The stairs indeed merged spaces and the storeys together but it did more than that in order to manipulate the placing of rooms and intermingle the routes of circulation.

ARAB WORLD INSTITUTE JEAN NOUVEL Paris, France 1987 A cultural center comprising of museums, exhibitions, a library, an auditorium and other several social spaces, the building had to respond to the multifaceted use of tradition vs. urban. In the center of all these spaces is an atrium that is wrapped with not only exposed elevator lifts but a large steel staircase that entices the inhabitant to explore. To get to a the destination of space, the stair allows two routes access that formulate a controlled behavior of ascending and descending. In a more general sense, the staircase that stretches 8 storeys high, transforms given conditions and communicatively responds to the archetypal elements of culture.

VIIPURI LIBRARY ALVAR AALTO Vyborg, Russia 1935 Probably the most interesting way to convey a sense control in space, the stair is divided into two parts. The architectural framework of the library carried several stepped levels areas for reading and working while an administrative center sits in the center. The simplicity of small stepped levels separated each space and enforced the functional differentiation of programs. Secondly, the main stairs separate two volumes of space that corresponds to a functional differentiation of program.

LONDON CITY HALL Norman Foster Southwark, London | 2002

Intended to symbolize transparency and pull the inhabitant inward, the helical staircase became a physical representation of the dynamic happening in the surrounding neighborhood. As it was discussed previously, the long treads alter the inhabitants experience by slowing them down, and because the building was almost entirely comprised of steel and glass, the staircase allowed views of the river and conformed the inhabitant to surrounding environment.





Stairs are used to channel as well as prevent movement and the staircase manipulates experience and enhances legibility to help people utilize it. Stairs are not things to be observed but rather serve to provide access. The beginning of a staircase stimulates a sense of anticipation in the inhabitant and influences movement and obstacles, determines direction, and offers beginnings and ends. When an intricate combination of paths presents itself in the organization of a building it could either be considered a complicated or tortuous arrangement or a place that encourages wonderment, discovery, and exploration. The labyrinth of a staircase enhances the brain in ways that change the perception of destination. The organization between stair and surface becomes a spatial sequence that distorts the typical approach to stair use. The experience of space is also altered by the way the inhabitant moves their body with the changing direction of pathways. The stairs can been used to create multiple choices of space and destination while igniting a childlike playfulness inside the inhabitant.


LAURENTIAN LIBRARY Michelangelo Florence Italy 1571 Interestingly enough, the plan of the stairs changed dramatically in the design stages and as a result the several documents of mixed plans developed a single dynamic structure that “appears to pour forth from the upper level of the library like lava and compressing the floor space of the vestibule� 41. The stairs combination of changing geometries and turning of spaces begins to present a sense of tension and compression because of its alternating and unbalanced proportions. The perception of the inhabitant has to be quickly rearranged in order to comprehend the strange organization of structure.



AN GAELARAS O’Donnell & Tuomey

Queens, New York 1962

Rome, Italy 1998

Derry, Ireland 2009

Because the stairs become a continuous ribbon of elements in the space, it can manipulate the inhabitants direction and spatial interpretation of movement. The different variations of the stair which was mentioned earlier as a footing for the quick movement of travelers, changes throughout the building in coordination to the space it follows. For example, larger and longer steps are integrated in the open spaces of lobbies and meeting spaces, while shorter more narrower stairs lead to the lounge and cafe. Saarinen’s play between direction and destination enhance the inhabitants experience of choice and timing.

Even though the already twisting of tubes and vertical ascension are emphasized by the composition of stairs and ramps, the accent of black staircases against the white walls of the building enhance the announcement of multiple vantage points and suspend the inhabitant to determine their next destination. Although the overlapping and intersections of circulation make the space confusing to the human eye, Hadid very carefully organized a spatial sequence that directed the inhabitant up and out of the space even when there seemed to be multiple choices for destination.

The placement of stairs in An Gaelaras is a perfect example of what a stair as labyrinth is and can be. From the very entrance of the building, the stairs encourage the meandering of inhabitants and from the courtyard, the stair maximizes the potential for visual interactions with inside occupants and the outside streets. The confusing image of random spaces is interconnected with stairs that vary in scale in order to fit into the standardization of rooms and other enclosed spaces.





Stairs can enhance legibility and help people utilize it. The stair provides a given sense of beginning and end, where conclusions can be drawn even before ascending or descending a vertical direction of space. When a staircase offers a direct sense of beginning and end, it is deemed to be trustworthy and rather easy to climb. On contrary, a staircase that presents the same moment of beginning and end can also generate itself to be intimidating when it reaches scales larger than the human can comprehend. The inhabitant of a staircase tends to feel a sense of accomplishment when they complete the act of ascending. When a stair is designed with a clear sense of agenda, the inhabitant does not hesitate the time or effort it takes to ascend or descend. But when the vertical sense of motion is interrupted with uncertainty or illegibility, notions of doubt fill the mind and suggest alternative methods of retreat or aborting the entire situation completely.


SCALA REGIA OF THE VATICAN ANTONIO DA SANGALLO Vatican City, Italy 1666 Scala Regia, literally a term that refers to a number of majestic entrance staircases, is known to be the most extraordinary in the entrance of the Vatican. As a formal entrance, the stair is considered to be a ‘narrow sliver of land between church and palace’ and is completely surrounded by irregular converging walls 42. What most considered to be a very theatrical moment of architecture, the staircase is an example of the components of stairs that direct a clear sense of direction. Intentionally wider at the beginning of the barrel-vaulted colonnade and increasingly getting narrower as the vista comes to an end, the stairs are an exaggeration of time, ritual, and verticality.


MALAPARTE HOUSE Adalberto Libera

San Francisco, California 1915

Capri, Italy 1943

The building’s open space covers over 500,000 square feet of land while the marvel of granite, sandstone, and marble covered the entire exterior and interior spaces. Much like every city hall, Bakewell & Brown created a spectacle of ceremony and accentuated the use of the grand staircase. The stair itself only has the purpose of leading to the ceremonial rotunda while the direct notion of destination heightens the anticipation of the stair.

As considered previously, the house sits on a dangerous cliff 32 meters above the sea with a trapezoidal staircase that also exists as a roof. Although the intention of the stair was to build a differentiation between the reality of life and the ability to escape from it, the stair did not need to be larger than the house in order to succeed this response. In fact, the simple datum of the stairs and the ability to see the end before the inhabitant even starts to ascend, causes an endless sensation of satisfaction and assurance - even when it sits on the jagged edge of an island.




INHABITED SPACE The ways in which inhabitants perceive and inhabit the stairs are most likely entirely different from what is envisioned by the designer. By exploiting the stairs between inside and outside and presenting ways the stairs have been obscured by architects, our own expectations can be confronted.

The term ‘to inhabit’ refers to being situated within a specific context of form or place. In order to inhabit space in architecture, a user will identify moments of familiarity while translating the space into a place of comfortability. Similar techniques show true when a user examines a staircase. Designed to allow for ascending and descending to another level of a building, a stair of the building code only considers inhabitants in motion. Take into consideration, the emergency exit stair; solid concrete, enclosed with fire proof doors, and hidden from the majority of public spaces. In almost all cases, this type of stair is not considered a place for inhabitation. It is not made for comfortability or as a place to exist but rather a space to be only used during emergencies. But what if an architect obscures the image of an ordinary emergency stair and makes it beautiful to the user. What if the emergency exit became a place for contemplation, a place to sit and meditate. This idea to transform the original stair of the building code by use of materials, light, forms, scale, and other techniques; makes the user more aware of their surroundings and grasps their attention to a changing environment, different from what they were expecting. The inhabitant’s of spaces carry their own perceptions and experiences before even entering the space itself. When that space is different from a typical encounter, a user begins to learn new ways to inhabit their surroundings; sometimes completely different from what the space was initially intended for. 55

OLIVETTI SHOWROOM CARLO SCARPA Venice, Italy 1958 A showroom for a typewriter manufacturer, this building is perfect example of space being an inhabited condition. The individual stone slabs that are supported by brass rods and rest ever so softly in space, introduce an asymmetric approach to the stair. Scarpa’s belief that symbolic functions for certain elements could fuse together the inhabitant and the effects of structure. He implicated creative limitations in the stone slabs and in return created a space that had the power to resist time and habit. But not only did Scarpa manage to slow the inhabitant down and focus on the elements of the stair itself, he also intentionally created a place that transcribed the human body into a different state of mind.



Vancouver, Canada 1980

Paris, France 1987

Part of a landmark in Robson Square, the Law Courts was design to replace an existing building near the government offices and was once named an innovative form of architecture 43. The most important feature of the Law Courts is the remains to stay connected to the surrounding environment while also being sensitive to nature. As a result, the entrance of the courts incorporates an exterior stair that invites the public to walk into the space. This staircase became a confluxtion between ADA requirements and aesthetic qualities that allows the inhabitant to translate the space any way they desire. Secondly, the obscurity that Erickson imposes between ramp and step toys with the perception of the stair and inhabitants are required to change their expectations of how to climb it.

A stair as an inhabited space is one that obscures the image of access and transform the way the inhabitant encounters and experiences it. The Arab World Institute is a reflection of external conditions that determine itself to be an unavoidable condition of architecture. The openness of the stairs begins to imply the inhabitant that there are outside experiences to conceive. In this case, this author believes that the staircase becomes an architectural act of permanent diagnosis through the parallel phases of patterned spaces, modular structures, and the mobility of the human body. The stair then, creates its own space for inhabitation, one that confronts the way the human uses the stair and what humans tend to expect from them.





Stairs contribute to the identity of places by the way they obscure, absorb, transmit and reflect sound. The surface of the stair affects its acoustic identity while sounds thicken the sensory state of our lives; helping us to interpret and to communicate with the surrounding spaces. The sensations produced through noise can begin to change the way we think about the staircase. The auditory system we embody also informs the inhabitant about people who are approaching but are still out of sight when we ascend or descend a staircase. Perhaps the sound of nothingness is a contribution to the sensations we feel while moving in vertical motions. Whether sound is constant or displaced, it changes our awareness of a space and potentially the safety of approaching a stair.


ST. PAUL’S CATHEDRAL Sir Christopher Wren London, United Kingdom 1705 Inside the three dome structure sits the circular walls of the whispering gallery that hold the large spiral staircase. Because of circumference of the space, any and every sound travels to all parts of the dome. The irregularly shaped walls and the gentle use of materials, embrace every sound the foot makes on the step. It is quite interesting that these sensations of noise control the inhabitants awareness and can ultimately alter the way they move their body through space.

FALLINGWATER Frank Lloyd Wright


SEATTLE CITY HALL Bohlin Cywinski Jackson Bassetti

Mill Run, Pennsylvania 1939

Minneapolis, Minnesota 2002

Seattle, Washington 2005

As a result of the surrounding environment, the sound of nature continuously provoke the sense of solitude within the house. More importantly, the sounds lure the inhabitant away from the compressed interior and out to the release of the exterior. When the inhabitant follows the stairs to the platform near the water, the awareness of their senses build and interpret the same feeling of solitude and peace. Secondly, the power of the falls is always felt regardless if the inhabitant is inside or outside, because it is felt through sound rather than through vision - this notion encourages curiosity.

The staircase that related code with experience, made the inhabitant distinguish sensations in space and time by not only its structure but by the condition of sound. The thick concrete materials of the stair and the tower block excess noise and allows for the making of its own experience of sound. Holl once wrote, “we hear the music of architecture as we move through spaces� 44. It is the soul of the architecture that identify the sensation of hearing or is it the soul of the inhabitant recognizing the emptiness of noise? The wonder remains unclear but for very good reasons. The building stands in mute solitude, but perhaps it is the receptive inhabitant that silently perceives the solitude in the form of the space. This staircase is the most perfect condition of what is possible in design.

The man made stream from the interior of the building descends alone the path of the inhabitant, down to the terraces on the street level. These delicate sound of the streams are a relaxing contribution to the chaos of everyday life. They enliven the necessary want to climb the stairs and offer tranquility in the merging of architectural components in the city.






MICHELANGELO Florence, Italy 1571

An architect’s particular design priorities will emphasize the spatial moments of the stair and the psychological capabilities it can offer to the inhabitant. Specific design elements may suggest points of escape and change the way we view things within the stair. Design elements also suggest the way we view things beyond the stair. When a stair enforces the notion of experience, the totality of an inhabitant’s perception is enlarged to adapt to the changing formations of encounters. For example, when a landing is placed in the middle of a long staircase, the user perceives this moment as a place to pause and to collect oneself. The landing serves as a design element that changes the normal processes of ascending or descending and suggests to the inhabitant a change in psychological perception of moving through space. It possesses spatial and social meanings that enforce the experience of the staircase. When a stair imposes these types of design elements in a building, it expresses the priorities of the architect and the meaning of importance the stair captures. The orchestration of relationships between surfaces, materials, lighting, and other design elements, aims to serve as symbol of this phenomenon.


What is interesting is that Michelangelo seemed to have a sense of wonderment when it came to the expectations of the inhabitant. The staircase at Laurentian Library seemed to challenge the everyday occurrence of climbing a stair and make it an opportunity to manipulate forms in order to change our adapted senses. Michelangelo seemed to take simple elements such as the spacing of the risers and treads and making them enormously complex.


FALLINGWATER Frank Lloyd Wright

Weimar, Germany 1926

Mill Run, Pennsylvania 1939

The challenge for the Bauhaus was for Gropius to refine his own architectonic ideas and embrace the favors of functionality. The stairs become the only central viewpoint of the building because it has such a complex design for the human eye to comprehend. In response, the stair uses asymmetry and regularity that accentuates the appreciation for the vertical ascension and descension of the stair. Secondly, because the building became a merging of the arts, the stair’s large platforms developed a character for social connection, conversation and loitering.

Known for its integration with natural surroundings, the stairs became an emphasis for a space of harmony. Originally influenced by Japanese architecture, there was an important need for the staircase to penetrate into both the exterior and interior spaces. The circulation through the house was designed to encourage a felling of compression and then once the inhabitant reached the staircase there was and expansion of relief and appreciation. The staircase became an experience in itself because it differed from all its surrounding context.




Paris, France 1925

Prague Czech Republic 1930

In the early stages of the promenade, the body began to play a central role in the circulation of the stair. Corbusier took the opportunity to use the design of this house to test the notion between body, mind, and space. He believed that the influences of the body were indeed a vital mediator in transacting knowledge between structure and brain. The experience of this stair became an examination of the passage of time and the essential creation of thrusting the human body through fixed layers of the building.

As an inhabitant experienced this space, the geometry very much informed the challenge of flowing freely from place to place. The requirement of different heights explored the notion of symbolic importance that pertained to the following rooms. The staircase became the connection between the merging of experiences and location.


AN GAELARAS O’Donnell & Tuomey


Derry, Ireland 2009

St. Petersburg, Florida 1982

Los Angeles, California 2002

Established as a cultural center, An Gaelaras includes a shop, cafe, performance space, offices, teaching spaces and board room offices. The restricting site of the building not only inform the spaces inside but they accentuate the boundaries of the staircase and the ability to control multiple access points. The main stair is organized around a central court that provides ease for visitors and staff but the intriguing vortex plan of spaces is what draws the visitors inward and upwards through the access of several staircases. O’Donnell & Tuomey explain that “this is not a building for doing things quickly. It is at its best when people stop and chatter; it is a heterogeneous space full of nooks and crannies” 45.

The stair’s architecture is greatly inspired by Dali’s fascination with DNA and the golden rectangle. The reinforced concrete spiral that functions as a tension spring, only allows access to and from the ground floor and the third floor, controlling the inhabitants experience. The stairs seem to float visitors through the space while adding a sense of curiosity to what follows.

The Burns Center is an obvious bright yellow four story box that houses daily classes and sits in the center of campus. The stairways of the building became Gehry’s project to bring inhabitants from the inside to the outside. They descend the facade on both ends of the yellow box and spill into the plaza to animate the facade of the bright facade.







Paris, France 1925

Light and heat are modifying elements of architecture that affect the process by which we perceive the stair. The presence of material modifies temperature a thicker wall keeping us better insulated from the outdoors, a thinner wall making us more susceptible to external forces while the structure of the stair provides a surface on which light falls and reflects. Light affects our moods and triggers our circadian rhythms. Heat changes the way we experience the stair and interact with its materials.

The illumination on a stair can determine the choice of the inhabitant to ascend or descend. When shadows form shape on the steps, the mind contemplates the comfortability of access. Light on the stairs exemplifies even more ways that the inhabitant experiences a space. A stair as light, exceeds the notion of ‘code light’ while providing sensuous light and daylight as a better means for constructing the stair. The exposure of heat in relation to the choice of material within a stair can alter the time people choose to inhabit the stair. For example, when the exposure of sun hits the surface of concrete, users might sit on the stair and collect the warmth from the surface. When heat radiates from a steel surface, an inhabitant might avoid touching the surface to keep from burning their skin. The interaction between stairs and the use of building elements, heat can alter the way we think about the stair.


For Corbusier, light served as a practical and symbolic purpose to choreograph the stair to its endless refinement. As an example, Villa La Roche embodies strong directional light from a small window about the landing. The light illuminates the geometry of the stair and the stair formulates an emotional power. More-so, the shadows that are cast onto the stairs emphasize the rhythm of the structure and the enthusiasm of material and colors 46.

SALVADOR DALI MUSEUM HOK St. Petersburg, Florida 1982 While the building exists of a geometric dome, the museum managed the direct daylight patterns by informing the space with the spiral staircase. The natural daylight is simultaneously permitted through the gaps of the cantilevered stair, which not only protects the gallery spaces from direct sun but also allow the concrete structure of the staircase feel open and lightweight.



Weimar, Germany 1926


Zurich, Switzerland 1967

Paris, France 1987

A stair as light also proves to be an important component in the design of stairs through Gropius’ use of rationally articulated volumes. A large window runs from floor to ceiling and exceeds the width of the entire double staircase. The light that is exposed into the exterior of the stairs dominates the interconnection between light and lightness. Climbing the stairs from the location of the lobby also gives value to the meaning of light. Since both sides of the stair are located around this large window, the natural light enables the inhabitant new perspectives of the interior with every step they take.

As it was considered previously in this compendium, the feeling of drama is accentuated, not only by the use of materials and structure, but by the use of natural light. During the day, the light flows down the sides of the column and emphasizes the independence of its form from the building as a whole. The distant horizontal light also illuminates the geometry of the steps, radically changing the mood of the space and enticing the inhabitant to explore.

The theme of light in the Arab World Institute is reflected in the southern wall consisting entirely of diaphragmatic apertures. Through these apertures does the light reflect the contours of the staircase and the stacking of shadows. The complexity and responsive use of glass plays with the programming of spaces and how the light can generate a sequences of changes throughout the diurnal schedule of the building.



Rome, Italy 1998

Minneapolis, Minnesota 2002

Rather a different form of light, the use of electrical elements in this building begin to change the interpretation of the inhabitant. Fluorescent tubes are placed in the stairs and on the underside of every circulation route. These specifically places lighting strategies give the staircase the appearance that it is floating even though there is zero to little direct daylight in the building.

Light to Steven Holl has a ‘prolific dimension of measurement and communication’. In response, the light in the stairwell of Rapson Hall, creates a volume of luminous spaces that almost become dreamlike to the inhabitant. Secondly, the channel glass on the single wall of the tower becomes radiant in transformed states, while its functional role of providing daylight shifts and gives off mysterious opacity and diffused glows 47 .


9.0 Notes 1. Templer, John. 1992. The Staircase : History And Theories. Cambridge, Massachusetts. Mit Press.

22. Alberti, Leon Battista. Ten Books On Architecture. London: A. Tiranti, 1955. Print.

2. Wermiel, Sara E. (2003). No Exit:The Rise And Demise Of The Outside Fire Escape. 44 (2). 258-284.

24. Laurentian Library. Toronto: Macmillan, N.D. Print.

3. Ballantyne, Andrew. (2002). What Is Architecture?. New Fetter Lane, London. Routledge. 4. Allee, John Gage. Webster’s Dictionary. New York: Galahad, 1975. Print. 5. “Icc - International Code Council.” Icc - International Code Council. N.P., N.D. Web. 14 June 2013. 6. “Icc - International Code Council.” Icc - International Code Council. N.P., N.D. Web. 14 June 2013. 7. “Building Officials Code Administrators International.” Thefreedictionary.Com. N.P., N.D. Web. Spring 2013. 8. “Uniform Building Code.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 21 May 2013. Web. Spring 2013. 9. “Icc - International Code Council.” Icc - International Code Council. N.P., N.D. Web. Spring 2013. 10. “Icc - International Code Council.” Icc - International Code Council. N.P., N.D. Web. Spring 2013. 11. “National Association Of Home Builders.” National Association Of Home Builders. N.P., N.D. Web. 14 June 2013.

23. Palladio, Andrea. The Four Books On Architecture. Cambridge, Ma: Mit, 1997. Print.

25. Flora, Samuel. (2007). Le Corbusier In Detail. Burlington, Ma. Elsevier Ltd. 26. Villa MüLler, Adolf Loos:Viaje A Praga. Madrid: Unidad Editorial De Revistas, 2010. Print. 27. Scarpa, Carlo, Co Francesco Dal, And Giuseppe Mazzariol. Carlo Scarpa:The Complete Works. New York: Electa/Rizzoli, 1985. Print. 28. Thiel-Siling, Sabine, And Wolfgang Bachmann. Icons Of Architecture:The 20th Century. Munich: Prestel, 1998. Print. 29. Hart,Vaughan. St. Paul’s Cathedral: Sir Christopher Wren. London: Phaidon, 1995. Print. 30. Downes, Kerry, And Christopher Wren. Sir Christopher Wren: The Design Of St. Paul’s Cathedral : Introduction And Catalogue. London: Trefoil Publications, 1988. Print. 31. “Twa Flight Center.” Mimoa. N.P., N.D. Web. 14 June 2013. 32. Erickson, Arthur. Seattle City Hall. Vancouver, B.C.: Arthur Erickson, 1999. Print. 33. Hart,Vaughan. St. Paul’s Cathedral: Sir Christopher Wren. London: Phaidon, 1995. Print. 34. “Laurentian Library.” Laurentian Library. N.P., N.D. Web. Winter 2013. 35. Flora, Samuel. (2007). Le Corbusier In Detail. Burlington, Ma. Elsevier Ltd. 36. Flora, Samuel. (2007). Le Corbusier In Detail. Burlington, Ma. Elsevier Ltd.

12. “National Association Of Home Builders.” National Association Of Home Builders. N.P., N.D. Web. 14 June 2013.

37. “Zaha Hadid Architects.” Maxxi: Museum Of Xxi Century Arts. N.P., N.D. Web. 14 June 2013.

13. “National Association Of Home Builders.” National Association Of Home Builders. N.P., N.D. Web. 14 June 2013.

38. Templer, John. 1992. The Staircase : History And Theories. Cambridge, Massachusetts. Mit Press.

14. Templer, John. 1992. The Staircase: Studies Of Hazards, Falls, And Safer Design. Cambridge, Massachusetts. Mit Press.

39. Le, Corbusier. (1986). Towards A New Architecture. New York: Dover Publications.

15. Krier, Rob. 1983. Elements of Architecture. Great Britain. E.G. Bond Ltd., London.

40. Le, Corbusier, And René Bolle-Reddat. Notre Dame Du Haut: Ronchamp. S.L.: S.N., 197-. Print.

16. Templer, John. 1992. The Staircase : History And Theories. Cambridge, Massachusetts. Mit Press.

41. “Laurentian Library.” Laurentian Library. N.P., N.D. Web. Winter 2013.

17. Krier, Rob. 1983. Elements Of Architecture. Great Britain. E.G. Bond Ltd., London.

42. “Scala Regia (Vatican).” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 06 June 2013. Web. 14 June 2013.

18. Wilkinson, Catherine. “La Calahorra The Spanish Renaissance Staircase.” L’escalier (1979): 153-298. Print.

43. “Law Courts (Vancouver).” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 18 Apr. 2013. Web. 14 June 2013.

19. Bandmann, Gunter. (2005). Early Medieval Architecture As Bearer Of Meaning. New York. Columbia University Press.

44. Holl, Steven, And Richard C. Levene. Steven Holl: 1986-1996. Madrid: Cruz, 1996. Print.

20. Templer, John. 1992. The Staircase : History And Theories. Cambridge, Massachusetts. Mit Press.

46. Flora, Samuel. (2007). Le Corbusier In Detail. Burlington, Ma. Elsevier Ltd.

21.Vitruvius, Pollio, And M. H. Morgan. Vitruvius:The Ten Books On Architecture. New York: Dover Publications, 1960. Print.


45. “An Gaeláras.” An Gaeláras. N.P., N.D. Web. Spring 2013.

47. “Rapson Hall.” Emporis. N.P., N.D. Web. 14 June 2013.

Fig 1: Means Of Egress : Portland, Oregon. Heather Mcwilliams Fig 2: Chateau De Chambord, Loire Valley, France. “Chambord Castle In The Loire Valley Of France.” Chambord Castle In The Loire Valley Of France. N.P., N.D. Web. 14 June 2013. Fig 3: Collage Of Building Codes. Heather Mcwilliams Fig 4: Reqium. Unknown. Fig 5: Building Code Timeline. Heather Mcwilliams Fig 6: Architecture Studio Companion Insert Fig 7: “Stair Safety - A Review Of Literature | Safety, Health And Environmental Body Of Knowledge.” Stair Safety - A Review Of Literature | Safety, Health And Environmental Body Of Knowledge. N.P., N.D. Web. 14 June 2013. Fig 8: “Leon Krier.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 26 Feb. 2013. Web. 14 June 2013 Fig 9: Athens Acropolis. Www.500px.Com Fig 10: Castillo Chichen Itza. Www.Enwikipedia.Com Fig 11: Scala Regia At The Vatican. Www.Flickr.Com Fig 12: Winter Palace Ambassador Staircase. Www.Flickr.Com Fig 13: Stair Of The Ambassador. Www.Alancienregimetumbler.Com Fig 14: Twa Terminal. Eero Saarinen. Www.Phaidon.Com Fig 15: Olivetti Showroom. Carlo Scarpa. Www.Archdaily.Com Fig 16: Palace Of The Arches. Oscar Niemeyer. Www.Flickr.Com Fig 17: Louvre Museum. Www.Igneelwebs.Com Fig 18: Catal Hayuk Photomerge. Heather Mcwilliams Fig 19: Notre Dame Bell Tower Stair. Www.Flickr.Com Fig 20: French Gothic Stair. Www.Flickr.Com Fig 21: Alonso De Covarrubias. Www.Flickr.Com Fig 22: Palace Of Caserta. Www.Flickr.Com Fig 23: 19th Century Marble Staircase. Www.Google.Com Fig 24: New York Fire Escape. Www.Tumbler.Com Fig 25: Escalator. Www.Flickr.Com Fig 26:Vitruvius’ Theories Of Beauty.Vitruvius, Pollio, And M. H. Morgan.Vitruvius: The Ten Books On Architecture. New York: Dover Publications, 1960. Print. Fig 27: Church Of St. Sebastian. Alberti, Leon Battista. Ten Books On Architecture. London: A. Tiranti, 1955. Print. Fig 28: Drawing Of Chateau De Chambord. Palladio, Andrea. The Four Books On Architecture. Cambridge, Ma: Mit, 1997. Print.


PART B | The Critical Analysis Uselessness is associated only reluctantly with architectural matters. - Bernard Tschumi



Restoring the Future There are two worlds in which the stair exists. The first world is the one that you just experienced in this book. It is the world of historical references - a commonplace for information, relevance and lessons. The second world in which the stair exists is the provisional process of making. This is the world of constructed research - a place for the act of production and the development of new knowledge. This thesis is a polemic that belongs to both of these worlds. Because without the realm of history there would be no place to learn from example and no room for progession. But without the assembly of new processes and theories, then the stair would still be considered an inappropriate response to architecture.




Case Study Analysis The compendium of historical stair types provides a systematic way of collecting data and analyzing information. As a result, there is a sharpened understanding of what makes the stair a meaningful element in architecture. The following process of analysis is testing the notion of components in order to draw attention to what is now most important in the design of a stair in the contemporary environment. This analysis selectively centers around the author’s first-hand encounters with the stair. It seemed necessary, that in order to understand the complex nature of the staircase, every case studies needed to be physically experienced and inhabited by the author. Continually honoring the two themes related to occupation of space and the human necessity to use it now shifts into more technical and theoretical research that is discovered through the act of production.


2.1 Lindos Acropolis Rhodes, Greece [9th C. BC] Lindos was founded by the Dorian in about the 10th century BC, but it wasn’t until the 8th century when it became a major trading center. In classical times the acropolis was dominated by the massive temple of Athena Lindia. In Hellenistic and Roman times, the temple grew as more buildings were added. In the early medieval times these buildings fell and in the 14th century they were partly overlaid by a massive fortress 1. The pathways of the island carry the inhabitant through the medieval wall and towards the entrance north of the acropolis where a large levelled platform rests. At this platform is where the monumental staircase makes its grand appearance. As the inhabitant leaves the terrace and begins to climb the 67 steps of large stone blocks towards the upper acropolis, remnants of inscriptions in the walls carry the inhabitant effortlessly up the stairs.








: As the inhabitant passes through the medieval wall, the staircase that leads to the upper entrance of the acropolis is the first visible and most commanding element. When ascending the staircase, a dais appears with epigrams that signify the importance of the space you are about to enter. It possesses social meanings of sacredness that enforce the experience of the staircase 2.

: Wide enough to climb yet large enough to render itself daunting. The absent use of landings and handrails proves the stair to be intimidating to climb but the vertical notion of ritual and sacredness modify the reception of capabilities.





: Mounting the steep staircase towards the castle entrance, remnants of the ancient staircase reside on the left hand side. The existing staircase was built in the time of the Knights but the fixed moments of ritual and entering the acropolis in the same place signifies the prevailing determination to control the experience.



2.2 Villa La Roche Paris, France - Le Corbusier [1923] Corbusier thought of the building as an essay in space, using perspectives, volumes, light and color to create a varied sequence of experiences that draw attention to the possibilities of a world beyond the immediately visible, ineffable space. The sheer presence of promenade lingers in this building. The body played a role of primary importance in this process, bringing about profound changes in behavior and attitudes. At the same time, careful framing of openings and the disposition of elements would re-sensitize the inhabitant of the building to possibilities of space and the intricacies of time. The staircase, a subtle yet carefully thought-out element of the promenade, is showcased elegantly while light from a small window above the landing reflects onto the contrasting play of black and white materials. The stair otherwise known as a dogleg stair invites curiosity for the reader to explore, and question the meaning of destination 3.












: The stairs are designed with a 6’’ rise 12” run which are meant to slow down the inhabitant while they move through the space. “The pace of the footprint is a key measure of space, its rhythm working in counterpart against architecture” – Le Corbusier 4.

: The body plays a central role in the circulation of the stair. It acts as the vital mediator in the transaction of knowledge between structure and brain. The stair’s primary means to influence thought was by influencing the body at a subconscious level. In this way the emotion leading to action could then be felt in our inner depths 5.



: The stairs build a relationship with the organization of routes by creating threshold moments of pause. They function as a place for reorientation while the human is attracted towards the center of gravity.

: The strong directional light creates shadows and give necessary emphasis to the rhythm of the structure. The light illuminates the shape of the stairs and creates an emotional power that changes the mood of the place.




2.3 Arab World Institute Paris, France - Jean Nouvel [1987] The Arab World Institute is a cultural center that showcases the Arab world culture in Paris while linking the Western cultures of tradition and constriction. It is a contemporary building that uses contemporary materials and most recognized for its wall of motorized diaphragms and the organization of light changing throughout the space. When you enter the building, sudden changes of light levels, spatial volumes, and sensations of openness and closure thrive. The experience of walking through the space has been compared to the sequence of a film shot where the sequence of changes between different volumes and light levels can be seen as a series of camera angles and apertures 6, 7.












: The structure is what makes the stair. The stair is what makes the structure. Without the keen sense of form and material, the stair does not embody the qualities that it should.

: To get to a single destination the stair makes up one of two routes. Although the elevator is the easy way out, the stair becomes a communicative response to what is happening outside. The interaction the stair possesses with the reader is uncommon in most stairs compared.



: The complexity and response of glass to light conditions plays with the programming of spaces and how they change throughout the day.

: The intention of the stairs is most definitely not what is expected of the reader. The panes of glass that separate the stair gives the space a place for security, while the openness the glass provides for the reader to see out provides doubt.



2.4 University of Minnesota, Rapson Hall Minneapolis, MN - Steven Holl [2002]


For Steven Holl, architecture is manifest; it is immanent; it reveals itself. Experience is thought to inform the inhabitant not only via objects or things, but also through space. As the inhabitant occupies a particular time, space is thus linked to a perceived duration. This very thought is exactly what is exemplified in Rapson Hall. An addition to the college, it offers peripheral views and morphological multiplicity. The vertical shafts of space are what make up the staircase and are markings to the newer entrances of the building. The staircase is a laboratory of daylight, capturing multiple light conditions in one day. Until you experience this space you will never understand the stairs ability to create a sensation of freezing time. The literal feeling of using a means of egress without feeling overwhelmed, scared, or rushed is indescribable. In fact, this stair reverses the speed of time and seems to use architectural elements to accentuate the way we use the space 8, 9.






: The detail and scale are especially important for this stair because it is designed to be an emergency exit. The grandeur scale of the stairs and the various landings slow the reader down but the shape of the stair speeds them up in a continuous harmony.



: Steven Holl’s belief that “space is only perceived when a subject describes it”, was especially noticed in the construction of this staircase. Holl uses the body as a system to orient space and designed the stairs to create determinate points of views that give way to indeterminate flows of perspectives. For example, the twists and turns of the space tease and excite the inhabitant while they too move in a constant state that twists and turns their body 10.







: Because of its fire rated codes, its enclosure is thicker than other stair examples. The vertical elevation is identified as a virtual tower or shaft of space that activates the campus site.

The think concrete walls take in and extrude immense amounts of heating during the changing seasons. The channel glass becomes radiant in transformed states while its functional role shifts and gives off mysterious opacity and diffused glows.




To be responsive to humans, planning decisions should be derived from the SPATIAL and BEHAVIORAL needs of the individual inhabitant



Human Behaviors Reconsidered Architecture is a complex form, and the phenomenon of the staircase within architecture is in fact an even more complex form. There are various ways of trying to understand what it is that the stair does and what we want it to do. This investigation has literally expressed the concern for what we expect from stairs and what we must do in order to control the existence of the stair. The themes expressed throughout the analysis prove the worthiness of the human body to be the most singular motivation for designing a complete staircase, and it is the human body that is in fact the key to saving the domesticated staircase of today’s built environment. But in order to carry through on this principle, there has to be a practical system of principles for architects to follow. The lack of a system for the building code has already obligated architects to make assumptions or guess what constitutes a stair that is safe, convenient and comfortable. So it is most important to establish theoretical and experiential refinements that will be responsive to spatial and behavioral needs of the people who occupy the space. Planning decisions should be derived from the physical, psychological, physiological and cultural needs of the users.



BOCA National Building Code is established



Measure of rhythm, comfort, and fatigue / development of stair geometry

J.M. Finch : American building: the forces that shape it

Edward T. Hall : the hidden dimension


G. Lehmann and B. Englemann : energy expenditure




Uniform Building Code is established

Standard Building Code is established

3.1 Physiological, Psychologial, and Behavioral Timeline


The few studies of human behavior on stairs have generally focused on two areas; the routes people take on the stairs, and the way people react to the stair. This organization of information is the first reference for theoretical analysis of the inhabitant. The human body is a subject that has been studied for several decades, although the theories that come out of them never seem to carry through the design of architecture.

Albert Damon: the human body in equipment design

UBC requires a geometry of 8 inch risers and 9 inch treads

a shoulder breadth of 21’’ is a reasonable design min. for public locations

Erwin Goffman : relations in public

minimum width of 22 inches

24 inches as the recommended minimum width for a single file stair for comfortable passage



Joan Ward and Bill Beadling : optimum dimensions for domestic stairways

Andrew Hale, Ian Glendon: individual behavior in the control of danger

Jake Pauls : effective width model for crowd flow


fixed stairways shall have a

John Hancock Callendar time saver standards


OSHA [occupational safety and health administration]

The following research in this thesis will reference the studies listed in this timeline and will briefly reference the series authors, scientist, theorists and physiologists that once too considered the stair an important component to learn from. 88




The Sensory Zone (conceptual scan of space)

form cognitive model of stair


careful scan


are your expectations met? no

does it look hazardous?


are you comfortable enough to continue?




choose your behavior (which route will you take, how fast will you go)

scan and locate the first step

Ambulate Boundary (modify your pace and behavior)

advance on stair


is the stair comfortable for you to no climb?

are you going to trip or fall?



monitoring the Body Ellipse and Defense Cycle


involuntary and voluntary reactions

do you recognize any obstructions?


can you recover?

no yes


have you reached your destination? yes




were your reactions effective?





Conformities of Spatial Demands The Conformities of Spatial Demands is a new theory developed for architects to reconsider and perhaps establish in their own practice of stair design. These demands are the logic based on the several key points that were made in the previous case studies as well as the interpretation of past human behavior studies. This theory is by no means a fixed notion of how we climb the stairs but rather an organization of information that pertains to the way we think and react to different circumstances. The Conformities of Spatial Demands, is the author’s development for better stair design that does nothing more than suggesting new principles rather than persuading them. The goal of these demands is to simply make architects aware of the possibilities for a stair design, as understood through human experience. Our actions on stairs consists of several sequential and concurrent processes of human acknowledgement and interpretation. The behavior diagram to the left is an example of how an inhabitant behaves in the presence of the stair. As one can see, behavioral patterns are established through the unity of motives, formalities, and actions. Behavior, in this theoretical approach, is directed toward satisfying needs, and therefore must be understood as a fundamental concept in designing for human experience on the stair. The following four spatial demands are the concepts in which the author proposes to be solutions for better stair design.


Fallible Latitude 21 inches (average shoulder width) Supplemental Apparel 1.5 inches on either side (additional clothing) Lateral Displacement 2 inches on either side (the body swaying) Body Oscillation 2 - 4 inches on each side (the arms swinging)


29-38 inches of comfortability 91



The body ellipse represents the physical dimensions of the human body standing at rest and projecting towards a staircase, and is the most essential spatial demand in understanding the human and their interaction with stairs. In the book, Time Saver Standards, by John Hancock Callendar it is states that the minimum shoulder width of the average human is 24 inches wide 11. Callendar continued to add dimensions to the shoulder width of the human body in order to determine the comfortability for pedestrian movement. Alternatively, 11 years before Callendar published his book, a similar dimension of 21 inches was determined by Albert Damon a specialist in equipment design. According to Damon, the shoulder breadth of 21 inches is a reasonable design minimum for public locations and human comfort 12. Both of these responses to design are considered in the factors of the Body Ellipse. This spatial demand exceeds the general minimum of shoulder width and considers the movement of the body in order to expand this knowledge. There is an elevated understanding of how our body moves side to side in rhythmic patterns when we climb the stair. With each foot on a different step our bodies learn to shift our weight, causing us to sway left and right. As a result, the Body Ellipse considers 1/2 inch of space on each side of our body. But while our body sways side to side, our arms are prone to swing in order to keep our stability. In order for our arms to swing freely, each side of our body needs another 2 inches to feel comfortable. It is important to note that handrails is not considered in this theory because it occupies at least 3 inches on each side of a staircase, however no further lateral displacement or body oscillation is necessary because the body sways and the arm swings mostly above the handrail. Finally, in order to allow tolerance for clothes, bags, and other parcels, another 2 inches of elliptical matter is added. From these estimates it is made obvious that in order for the human body to feel comfortable at a standing rest a minimum of 29 inches is recommended.


intimate distance less than 18-in.

personal distance 1/2ft to 4 ft

social distance 4ft to 12 ft

public distance 12 or more ft



THE DEFENSE CYCLE The inhabitant is always aware of their exterior surroundings and when climbing the stair - the same distances as the ones represented in this spatial demand are considered. The Defense Cycle represents the acceptable distance that humans are comfortable in relation to personal space and pedestrian encounters. It does not exist to prevent physical collisions but to maintain what is comfortable to the human body. Once again, these distances are by no means fixed, and they could vary according to cultural and environmental factors, but when territorial zones are violated, whether voluntary or not, the psychological tensions that are produced generate defensive patterns of behavior. This relationship between the inhabitant’s body ellipse and the encounters of other inhabitant’s spatial ellipse, can become a determining factor when designing stairs that are meant for large areas of traffic. Furthermore, in order to determine what is a responsible approach for stair design, architects must first consider what a comfortable distance of space is. The theory of this spatial demand was first influenced by Edward T Hall’s discussion of the hidden dimension. Hall spent a lifetime developing a concept of human behaviors in reaction to different types of culturally defined personal space and used similar descriptions of distances; intimate, personal, social, and public 13.


22 in. Pacing Distance


28 in. Pacing Distance


THE AMBULATE BOUNDARY The ambulate boundary represents the average change of pacing distances and the behavior changes in comfortability. The average walking distance before approaching the stair averages 28 inches while it decreases to 22 inches of distance once the human body is on the stair. This idea relates to the oscillation of the body and how we move our bodies in a vertical direction. G. Lehmann and B. Engleman both specialists in theoretical research, developed a study that was based on the energy expenditure of the human body or more specifically, the measure of rhythm, comfort and fatigue. The study was developed in order to try and understand the best geometry of the stair, and although their study was not adequately resolved, the rate of traveling distances proved to be an accurate response to how the inhabitant changes pace before and after reaching a staircase 14. This spatial demand offers the architecture to understand that depending on the distances of the tread and the height of the riser, the human body can either climb the stair with ease or if poorly consider will disregard the stair because it takes too much work to climb. When we are forced to change our pacing distance, then the component must change with it.


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THE SENSORY ZONE The Sensory Zone represents the physical act to perceive, evaluate, and react to the objects of the surrounding environment. These perceptual systems that humans utilize in order to perceive, evaluate, and react to objects or hazards, will cause human behaviors to maintain a bubble of space in order to defend the space that they are in. The auditory system informs the user about people who are approaching but are still out of sight. The haptic system supplies the user with information about the floor and tread surfaces. The taste and smell system is active in conditions of human proximity and finally the visual system contributes to most of the user’s information for mapping, directing, and loco motor processes.




Forms of Encounters The following Forms of Encounters are secondary conditions that are based off of the Conformities of Spatial Demands. These encounters have never been considered in contemporary stair design and by learning these, we can expand our perception of what a stair is for, and what happens on the stair once the inhabitant chooses to interact with it. To truly understand the experience of the stair, it is critical to understand how the human occupies the territory of the stair.



4 feet of comfortable distance

For ascending a single file stair for two inhabitants, there is an approximate 38 inches between walls that allow for comfortability, although in most cases a minimum of 29 inches still allows the inhabitant to stay in control of their body ellipse and maintain a distance between themselves and the wall by 3 1/2 inches. Under conditions of free flow, the inhabitant has to learn to accept a minimum longitudinal spacing of about 4 feet - which corresponds to the lower end of the scale of social distance in the spatial demands of the Defense Cycle. In ascent, the inhabitant focuses more on the space in front of them than the space that exists behind them.



2 feet of comfortable distance

On a straight, single file stair in descent, the inhabitant is prone to speeding up their pacing distance and becoming less aware of their distance between them and the inhabitant in front of them. Descending a stair is less of a thought than ascending a stair because the combination of gravity and the rhythm of steps control the foot in a more easier and simpler way. Under the conditions of free flow the inhabitant adapts to a minimum longitudinal spacing of about 2 feet in order to still feel comfortable within their body ellipse.


ascending descending 103

5.3 RUSH HOUR When class breaks out or when a meeting is assemble are examples of when an encounter of rush hour occurs. This is an area that can cause alertness in the inhabitant’s use of the stair as well as creating discomfort or informal behaviors. Secondly, when a stair is large enough to encompass larger groups of human activity, the comfortability can decrease because there becomes too many obstructions or obstacles the could intimidate the inhabitant. When a case of rush hour happens, the inhabitant not only becomes aware of the body ellipse but they become aware of everyone else’s body ellipse. Additionally, when several inhabitants have the same destination, then the climbing of the stair is made semi easier to process because there is less of a chance for uncomfortable encounters to occur - unless the perception of the space is made to be dangerous, then the reaction to abort the stair is in effect.


5.4 CROWDED CONDITIONS In a similar encounter to rush hour, a stair with crowded conditions will alert the inhabitant with a sudden reaction to either leave the stair, control and inhabit the allowable distance of space or speed up the pacing distance in order to surpass the feeling of being crammed. If the stair has several other people on it, our behavior changes to a rule based level. For example, it is a cultural rule that it is not acceptable to bump into one another, therefore in this condition the inhabitant usually moves over to the right. If the stair is so crowded that the rule cannot be used, then the inhabitant will consider a new path in order to ease comfort wait for a gap, try to squeeze past, hold their ground and move past.

descending 104

5.5 DESCENT WITH LANDING In both ascent and descent most people keep to the right of the stair. However, in descent, the single inhabitant has the ability to maneuver and change course - which is much easier to do than when in ascent. The inhabitant can quickly switch sides if an ascending person keeping right approaches. Furthermore, when a landing is made present, the inhabitant tends to avoid the keep right rule and uses the landing as a shortcut in order to get to their destination more quickly.




In the encounter of a landing with more than one inhabitant , the same conditions of a single inhabitant occur although certain mishaps can suddenly change the expectation and perception of the inhabitant. For example, the same rule exists that most inhabitants stick to the right side of the stair, but when one inhabitant avoids the right rule and say uses the landing as a shortcut, while another inhabitant is on the stair, very strong conditions of tension occur. When territorial zones are violated the psychological tensions generate defensive patterns of behavior. The inhabitant that was suddenly imposed upon, has zero to little time to detect the oncoming traffic and therefore only has to choice to either change the direction of movement or develop muscular tension and literally make themselves immobile.

descending 106




Installation: A Full Scale Concept Model “The essential purpose of a staircase is utilitarian yet the design of even the simplest stair is complex”. – [Oscar Tusquets Blanca]





6.1 Stair of Code vs. Stair of Reaction The authorship of this installation was a model for my own study of the staircase. The methodology is one of installation art that is informed by the geometries and conditions of the centuries of stairs. The installation of a staircase is a theory to test the notion of the stair’s ability to express meaningful architecture but to also utilize the changing formalities of the building code in order to mock it for being superficial to design. The installation is clearly interpreted as a staircase but it cannot physically support the ascension of the human body. The code stair is functionally available for the passerby to climb but when they reach the stair that cannot ascend; the infinite meaning of inability is forced upon the inhabitant. It provokes a rebellious and disturbing nature of not fulfilling the daily motion of moving up or down. The choice to make the stair disconcertingly impossible, was derived from the theoretical and analytical collection of data that if the stair does not follow the inevitable, then the human body must create new spatial, emotion, and physical demands and engage in the staircase with full awareness and capability; the art of living.
















The Final Argument Architecture may mean many different things to many different people. Perhaps only a few might suggest that it was made of stairs. This thesis began with an unusual proposition that argued the domestication of the stair and the poor ability for architects to recognize its value for spatial, physical, emotional and behavioral responses to architecture. This thesis was to challenge the situation of the building codes and demonstrate through history and the act of production that the stair gives expression to the life of the inhabitants. By studying the historiography of stairs, the code history of stairs, by looking closely and analyzing the stairs, by building models of stairs, and by building an installation that is a stair, this thesis can seemingly prove through the body of knowledge that the stair should in fact be revived for its experiential implications and that its commanding responsibilities are a regulation of design rather than the building codes. Architects have always claimed to be designing for people and thus to be interested in designing for people and thus to be interested in designing an environment that can “uplift the spirit and enhance the sense of well being� 15. It is clear from the glance at the polemic of stairs that there is a gap between the architect’s intentions and his achievements. There are many parts of the designed environment which are a exemplary model of success, but others which are designed to be barren and lifeless. The need to reconsider both the traditional principles and processes of stair design are now made obvious to the profession.



A Letter To Architects Dear architects of the past, present, and future; If you are driven by your heart-felt passion to design a structure that embodies all the elements of architecture, then it is your obligation to design the staircase and make it your top priority. Do not hesitate, for the building code will instruct you with the basic knowledge of stair geometries and dimensions and will guide you to the rules of safety - rules I might add, that are but minimum requirements for human engagement in the acts of ascending and descending. DO NOT for any reason let the stair become an isolated and standardized service area. The stair deserves just as much care as the structure, or the doors, or the exterior faรงade gets. It is the staircase that will lift the spirit and enhance the life of your design. It is the staircase that will encourage curiosity. Sit for a minute and contemplate how many stairs you have designed and placed in the shadows of a building. How many stairs have you delegated to the corners of unused space and filled with minimal and unnatural lighting. How many stairs have you designed that are uninhabitable to the user. How many stairs have you designed that were controlled by budgets, safety regulations, or fire codes. How many stairs have you designed that heightened the human experience? What if we thought of stairs as the veins and arteries of the buildings we design? What if we designed stairs like the Egyptians, Greeks, or Romans? What a beautiful architecture we would create. Obviously we do not have the time, money, or space to design the stair as it has been designed historically, but we have the capability to comprehend what monuments exist as a place where architecture was indeed a heartfelt passion, and the stair conveyed meaning to the entire structure of the building. We now have the knowledge to understand that the building code is not an end to architecture but rather a complimentary formula to support our imaginative stair designs. Once we consider the minimum safety regulations, we can move on to the important and most influential design process of cultural significance and elements of communication. Right now the stair is isolated. It will continue to grow deeper and deeper into isolation until it most likely is not considered necessary.Your job as an architect is to save the stair from extinction.

Sincerely, Heather McWilliams


9.0 Notes 1. Nossov, Konstantin. (2010). The Fortress of Rhodes 1309-1522. Botley, Oxford. Osprey Publishing. 2. Nossov, Konstantin. (2010). The Fortress of Rhodes 1309-1522. Botley, Oxford. Osprey Publishing. 3. Flora, Samuel. (2007). Le Corbusier In Detail. Burlington, Ma. Elsevier Ltd. 4. Flora, Samuel. (2007). Le Corbusier In Detail. Burlington, Ma. Elsevier Ltd. 5. Forty, Adrian. (2000). Words and Buildings. “Spatial Mechanics – Scientific Metaphors”. High Holborn, London. Thames and Hudson Ltd. 6. Morgan, Conway Lloyd. (1998). Jean Nouvel: The elements of Architecture. New York, NY. Universe Publishing. 7. Casamonti, Marco. (2009) Jean Nouvel. Italy. Motto. 8. Holl, Steven. (2000). Parallax. New York, New York. Princeton Architectural Press. 9. Garofalo, Francesco. (2003). Steven Holl. New York, New York. Universe Publishing.

Fig 1: Lindos Acropolis Site and Staircase. Heather McWilliams Fig 2: Foam strips to form rockite Fig 3: Rockite drying Fig 4: “stone” forming Fig 5: Building and stacking of the stair Fig 6: Stair completely stacked Fig 7: Looking up the staircase Fig 8: Final model of Lindos Entrance Fig 9:Villa La Roche Plan. Heather McWilliams Fig 10:Villa La Roche Perspective Fig 11:Villa La Roche case study | ascending staircase Fig 12: Final Model | Villa La Roche

10. Jacques, Michel. (1994). Steven Holl. Germany. Artemis Zurich.

Fig 13: Arab World Institute Plan and Image. Heather McWilliams

11. Templer, John. 1992. The Staircase: Studies of Hazards, Falls and Safer Design. Cambridge, Massachusetts. MIT Press.

Fig 14: Arab World Institute case study frame

12. Templer, John. 1992. The Staircase: Studies of Hazards, Falls and Safer Design. Cambridge, Massachusetts. MIT Press.

Fig 16: Perspective of stairs and handrail 1

13. Hall, Edward T. “The Hidden Dimension.” Anchor Books Editions, 1966. Print. 14. Templer, John. 1992. The Staircase: Studies Of Hazards, Falls, And Safer Design. Cambridge, Massachusetts. Mit Press. 15. Le, Corbusier. (1986). Towards a New Architecture. New York: Dover Publications.

Fig 15: Construction of steps | Arab World Institute

Fig 17: Perspective of stairs and handrail 2 Fig 18: Final Model | Egress Section Arab World Institute Fig 19: Rapson Hall Plan and Perspective. Heather McWilliams Fig 20: Rapson Hall stair mold | foamcore Fig 21: Rapson Hall stair mold holding rockite 1 Fig 22: Rapson Hall stair mold holding rockite 2 Fig 23: Rapson Hall rockite stair Fig 24: Final model stair perspective 1 Fig 25: Final model stair perspective 2 Fig 26: Final Model | Rapson Hall Emergency Exit Stair Fig 27: Stair origami experiment. Heather McWilliams Fig 28: Indigo West/ZGF Architects Lobby | Mixed Media. Heather McWilliams Fig 29: Installation sketches. Heather McWilliams


Fig 30: Installation concept model perspective Fig 31: Installation concept model elevation Fig 32: Installation concept model 2 perspective Fig 33: Installation construction Fig 34: Complete Installation | Stair of Code vs. Stair of Egress. Heather McWilliams Fig 35: Installation 2 | The Conformities of Spatial Demands Fig 36: Shifting Stair Geometries Fig 37: Controlling the Inhabitants experience Fig 38: Defense Cycle close up shot Fig 39: Final Installation : neverending destination Fig 40 - 74: Inhabiting the Stair of the Code Experiement


In Case of Meaning: Do Not Take the Stairs