Monday, November 14, 2011: 05:59:38 PM

Innovation

STAIR AFFAIRS

Staircases play a significant role in adding to the functionality and aesthetics of an edifice. Anvita Bansal takes a closer look

Stairways are an integral component of any structure’s layout, and contribute tremendously towards enhancing the aesthetics of their surrounding environment, when backed by the correct layout and utilisation of materials. The design of staircases has been tweaked and experimented with on several occasions, over the years, to evolve myriad patterns and types—without comprising on safety. In this story, we take a look at interesting structures, building components and a few noteworthy innovations in staircase design.



Stair Settings
All staircases are comprised of a few basic components including treads, the actual step; risers, the vertical part of the step; and stringers, which support the treads and risers.

Box stairs are the most common variant and are the easiest to install. Their design is simple, comprising two stringers, risers, treads and a narrow top known as ‘nosing’. Generally, 13–16 risers for each floor are used, and for visual appeal, these are furnished with carpets. Low-cost lumber is used in these stairs, and this is completely covered by the carpet to maintain good aesthetics. These stairs are very popular around the world, on account of their functionality, low cost and easy installation.

Open stairs are a modified version of the classic box-type stairs, and build on the latter’s aesthetics and functionality. Its design features two stringers, treads with mitre returns and risers. Its top tread is narrow and it is carpeted from the middle. Since these stairs are exposed, more expensive lumber such as oak is used. Open stairs are offered by many stair manufacturers. Since these stairs are carpeted from the centre, they create a more dramatic visual appeal. This variant can also be created with a good combination of stained and painted woods.

House open stairs are preferred when the structure in question requires a more modern and contemporary look. These staircases are designed with a thicker and stronger stringer that provides the main support for the stairs. House open stairs are not as popular as box or open stairs; they are predominantly used in residential applications. Carpet may or may not be used for house open stairs, depending on the desired look and the material used for the stairs. While this type of stairs does not have many risers, it is usually wider than 36 inches. The lesser number of risers means that one can even see through the steps.



Winders are installed to facilitate turns on stairs. These usually have two or three treads. Two tread stairs are considered much safer than those with three treads. The lesser the number of winders, the higher is the safety of the stairs.

While designing stairs, it is very important to take into account the amount of space available for the staircase. Each tread requires a minimum of 10 inches of space. Winders are preferred in cases where there is ample unutilised space.

Starting steps demand extra width, and hence must be used with caution. These steps are available in double-sided and single-sided formats. These stairs are generally of 12 inches width-slightly wider than the width of the other stairs. If these steps begin at the corridor, then the corridor needs to have a minimum width of 36 inches.

On The Top

Staircases have undergone numerous changes over the years, to match pace with the changing times. Architects have often experimented with the design and aesthetics of stairs, while keeping safety and stability in sight at all times. But there are a few exceptional examples that are as well known for the creative genius that is woven into their design, as their sustainability. Some of these are listed below:

Variety                              Key Features

Musical Stairs               􀂉 Each step has its own note.
                                 􀂉 With too many people, random and discordant  notes can be heard.
                                 􀂉 It makes for an interactive experience.
Skateboard Stairs       􀂉 Custom-made with a concave edge only on one end
                                 􀂉 These ascend to a solid aluminium beam
Spiral Staircase Slide   􀂉 Has a slide along the stairs
                                 􀂉 The stairs and staircase are carved in a spiral design.
Hidden Door Staircase 􀂉 The possibility of secret room hidden behind the staircase
                                  􀂉 It doubles as a door
De-constructible wooden staircase 􀂉 Made of laminated timber
                                  􀂉 Dismantled rather than demolished
                                  􀂉 Good shelf life

Material Matters
Materials used in staircases have seen drastic changes over the years. Today, staircases are designed with unique components to give them a contemporary yet elegant look. Concrete staircases are the most widely used and are very popular because of concrete’s ability to take on any desired shape.

Concrete is mainly used for curved and spiral staircases. Prefabricated concrete is preferred because of its strength and durability that withstands the test of time. The only downside of concrete is its lack of visual appeal. To compensate for the same, designers often cover it with marble, wooden or granite cladding; metal handrail and balustrade are also used with concrete stairs.

A classic material choice for staircases is wood; however, over the years, the type of wood used has been modified to suit varied interior styles. From contemporary to traditional and from modern to rustic—as a medium, wood has been experimented with frequently over the years. For a modern look, sleek, trimmed and space-saving treads are preferred, especially in cases where the available space is limited. Carved and railed wooden designs are used to beautify wooden staircases.

Brick is a cost-effective, durable and easily available raw material for staircases. It is preferred for home interiors, and is well-known for its rugged and raw look that lends a unique identity to the interiors. It is commonly used with stone or cement finishing. Unfinished brick staircases are often used in interiors, as their appearance looks more beautiful with time.

Glass has come a long way from its reputation of being a delicate material, with newer variants setting new records in strength and sustainability. The use of glass in staircases has gained momentum in recent years, with multiple colour and texture options flooding the market. Glass stairs work well with metallic railings, and are suitable for constrained places. Although these stairs are most popular for their modern and sleek aesthetic, they also require very high maintenance.

Stone staircases are available in a variety of materials, ranging from granite to marble. These are used as covering material for brick and concrete staircases. They lend a luxurious touch to the edifice in which they are used. Often marble staircases are used to match the marble flooring of a structure. Stone is also used widely for exteriors such as in gardens and courtyards. These staircases are easy to maintain, durable, and resistant to pests and moisture. Stone can also be fashioned in distinctive shapes to add a one-of-its-kind look to the stairs.

Metal staircases are not very popular, but are mainly used for space-restricted interiors. They are strong and hard, but equally low in aesthetics. They are most commonly used in industrial areas.

Solid surface staircases are a good alternative for natural materials such as stone. Initially developed as surfacecovering material, these have recently been developed and used as staircase material. They are best known for their durability, visual appeal, low maintenance and wide variety.


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