An Architect’s Guide To: Stairs and Railing

Step up your designs for beautifully detailed stairs.

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Stairs and railings come in many shapes and sizes, and it can be hard to know where to begin. Floating stairs, spiral stairs, straight-run or switchback … The choices can be daunting. Add on top of that the variety of local and international safety regulations, and it can seem like you have a hefty bit of studying to do if you’re going to do stairs right. We’ve broken down the basics and collected some nice examples for inspiration, so check out this collection to step up your design skills.

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The Roy and Diana Vagelos Education Center designed by Diller Scofidio + Renfro in collaboration with Gensler; left: image via designboom; right: image via Dezeen

How to Specify: Stairs and Railing

“In real life, the act of designing, specifying and constructing stairs and railings is … challenging. There is a range of products that go into them from treads to balustrades, and, despite the many safety regulations that proscribe their design, no two stairs are exactly alike. The most complicated information you’ll probably need to provide is the dimensions of the installation space and your desired components. Beyond that, think about the form, color and material you envision for the steps, handrails, balustrades or ramps. Do you want glass or bronze balustrades? Or maybe some metal mesh?” Check out the full story here.

Fontanot floating stair with glass balustrade

How to Detail a Code-Compliant Floating Staircase

“Creating the perfect floating stair — one that appears to lightly hover above the ground and smoothly rise to unknown higher levels — is hard. There are countless considerations to make from tread length, to step depth, riser height and handrail width. You even have to think about the difficulty of detailing such a stair. Will it have wall supports or be a sturdy mono-stringer? Will it dramatically suspend from a series of ceiling-hung cables or will it feature a standard set of stringers that ground it intensely?” Check out the full story here.


Ampersand Building by Darling Associates features stairs and railings by Paul Cocksedge Studio

Stepping Up: 6 Spaces Transformed by Custom Railings and Stairs

“At the center of the Ampersand Building, an office complex for technology and software manufacturers, is the gorgeous “Living Staircase” by artist Paul Cocksedge. The stair, in stark contrast to contemporary lobby, appears like intertwined “ribbons” of wood and flowers. Rather than a central newel, the stair winds around circular platforms with built-in seating; small breakout spaces where employees can chat, read or make herbal teas from the flower boxes. As Cocksedge explains: “The Living Staircase is designed to be a staircase, a relaxation zone and a sculpture all in one. All these activities are distinctly low-tech, to provide a contrast and a counterpoint at the heart of the very high-tech environment that is Ampersand.”” Check out the full story here.

© Behnisch Architekten

© Behnisch Architekten

City of Santa Monica Public Parking Structure #6 by Behnisch Architekten

Building Momentum: 10 Clever Examples of Color-Coded Circulation

“Color orients and guides. When combined with elements like wayfinding or circulation, color profoundly shapes how we experience space. While color-coded circulation has been used throughout history, it’s being increasingly used to highlight expressive forms or delineate multiple thresholds. Defining the boundaries of a wall or room, colored circulation draws attention by activating staircases, halls or platforms. Taking a deep dive into novel circulation techniques, we’ve gathered the following collection of projects that utilize color to emphasize a particular building path or movement. As elements defining perception, each route reinterprets traditional ideas on progression and sequence. Building identity, they make a statement and reveal the diverse ways that color can transform architecture.” Check out the full story here.

It’s Okay to Stair: 9 Lessons in Crafting Beautiful Staircases

“In some projects, stairs are simply an avenue, ingress or egress. But, in others, they’re sculptural, edgy, minimal or mesmerizing architectural elements capable of injecting a unique sense of character into an entire building. If you are in the latter camp when it comes to specifying stairs, consider these nine precedent studies in the art of staircase design, ranging from individual components to complete systems.” Check out the full story here.

© Craig A Williams

© Craig A Williams

Westminster Residence by PLANT Architect Inc.

Get Into the Groove: 6 Stellar Recessed Handrails

“As unique and thoughtful pieces of design, recessed handrails are a strong cause for celebration. Rather than merely slabbing a railing onto a wall as an afterthought or safety requirement, each one of these inset details are as inherent to the building as the wall itself. While handrails like these can be hard to design and detail, these projects make up a strong set of reference points to use as a launchpad. Intentionally dug out, they invite you to slip your hand in, float down in a dreamlike state and reconsider every average staircase you have ever set foot on.” Check out the full story here.

Vreugdenhil Dairy Foods by Maas Architecten and EeStairs, Nijkerk, Netherlands

How Architects and Manufacturers Can Combine to Create Perfect Stairs

“Everyone knows that a grand entrance can make quite a statement and first impression. But in a similar way, a staircase also has the potential to pack a punch and inject character into a project. These functional — and often central — elements can become opportunities for architects to flex their creative muscle and design something sculptural, dramatic or simple-yet-handsome. To inspire you as you specify stairs for your next project, we present a few of our favorite designs to recently grace the pages of Architizer, along with product manufacturers and specialists that can help you in your quest to develop the ideal staircase.” Check out the full story here.

Case Studies

Spiraling Out: Revealing the Incredible Craftsmanship Behind Custom Helix Staircases

“The coveted spiral staircase is a feat of engineering and design beyond measure. Its effortless twists and turns defy conventional climbing and conjure up mysterious upstairs worlds in the minds of those who dare to circle toward the ceiling — or next floor, rather. While they look seemingly simple in design, spiral staircases are actually very challenging to create. That’s why architects looking to specify the spiral must turn to veteran manufacturers who can produce custom-designed staircases for different architectural typologies. One Brooklyn-based manufacturer who’s been providing bespoke staircase designs from New York for 20 years is Serett Metalworks, led by founder and owner Joshua Young. Situated inside an old warehouse in the industrial district of Gowanus, Serett employs 17 people who do everything from design to fabrication to installation. The team takes on residential, mixed-use, commercial and public projects for a client list ranging from Calvin Klein to the Rockwell Group, Woody Allen and Hariri & Hariri Architects.” Check out the full story here.

Atrium of Los Angeles Courthouse by SOM

Architectural Details: How SOM Found the Perfect Glass Guardrail

“The designers at Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM) had what may be a familiar problem. For their new Los Angeles Courthouse, they had designed a minimal interior with a large atrium and an exposed stair that was light, bright and open. It was a dream. Then came reality and, with it, the problem. Building codes require guardrails, and rightfully so — all those people accidentally falling off the edge of floors would be a bummer. A federal courthouse also has to satisfy stringent safety requirements that might eliminate options that could work in, say, a small vacation home. Rather than cluttering up the interior with distracting barriers, the designers wanted to have the guardrails disappear as much as possible, ideally by just using simple panes of glass.” Check out the full story here.

Search for Stair and Railing Manufacturers

Specifying the ideal stairs and railing for your latest project? Save time, money and your sanity by searching on Architizer’s new online marketplace for building-products. Click here for more information.

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How Architects and Manufacturers Can Combine to Create Perfect Stairs

Everyone knows that a grand entrance can make quite a statement and first impression. But in a simil ar way, a staircase also has the potential to pack a punch and inject character into a project.

© Paul Warchol Photography

Clough Undergraduate Learning Commons // Bohlin Cywinski Jackson

Atlanta, GA, United States