Few people love putting together stair drawings, but I think you’ll agree that some stairs are more fun to detail than others. Such is the case for the monumental stairwell we’ve been working on for our Oak Grove shared coworking space. The front of the building was previously a generic spec developer office building complete with ribbon windows and ground level parking deck under the building. From the very beginning, we knew that there were going to have to be some serious changes.
So many stairs! This is actually a much more complicated story but the short version for our purposes today is to say that the original monumental stairwell was not very monumental. Building code mandates that you can’t have a 3-story open stairwell that shares a discharge space with the elevator cab. The original lobby to this building was barely larger than a phone booth and you had to move from the first floor to the second floor in a dark and unpleasant fire stairwell and only then would the monumental stairwell open up between the 2nd and the 3rd floor.
We didn’t think that was a very pleasant way to enter a building so we decided to go about solving this problem a different way. By adding an exterior stairwell outside the building, we could shift our required egress stair from inside the building to this new set of stairs and create a proper monumental stair that would allow a continuous and uninterrupted procession from the now enlarged entry lobby all the way up to the top floor. If you are going to go to all that trouble, seems like a good idea to have those stairs make a statement – which is what we have done.
The new interior stairwell is intended to be an object within the building and as such, we reduced the impact of all the “stair parts” by wrapping the entire stair in a 3/8″ steel plate guardrail that would effectively make this element an object rather than an assembly of parts. The interior stair is in direct contrast to the exterior stair – both in its orientation and with how we have articulated the individual pieces of the separate stairwells. The image above does a fairly nice job how highlighting the differences between the two sets of stairs.
Because I think sharing technical drawings has some value to many of the people who read this site, I’ve included a few pages of the interior stairwell here. The drawing sheet above includes the enlarged floor plans as well as the section elevations of the interior stair. I wrote a post a few months ago (Stairs Are Complicated) that highlighted the exterior stairs if you would like to see the difference between these two elements.
One of the items we are still working through is the detailing associated with the steel plates that will act as the guardrails as well as making these stairs their own sculptural element. I know enough about steel fabrication to get really close and ask the right sort of questions to help make sure that we can get the execution close to our design intent. I have met with the steel fabricator and expressed some concern about how the steel plates could warp as they were welded along the bottom edge and as a result, twist minimally but perceivably out of alignment with one another. The fabricators suggested that we take a metal cap and run it along the top – which would do the job of holding these plates in alignment with one another but aesthetically, that solution “make my face hurt”. Since I don’t sleep all that much, I believe that I have figured out a better solution – sometime around 3:00 am – and I will detail a steel angle, held down off the top so that the individual steel plates will continue to read as individual plates, whose visible purpose will be to hold the wooden handrail … but it’s secretive purpose will be to keep everything lined up.
Stairs are a complete pain to design and detail but as a design element, it doesn’t get much better – particularly if you like putting together technical details. I have been really fortunate with the people I have been able to work with on this project in my office. If it weren’t for the passion and enthusiasm of people like Travis Schneider, Danielle Anderson, and Nick Thorn, elements like this would probably not reach their full potential.
As these elements come together on the site, I’ll be sure to keep you updated on their progress. You can always follow my Instagram account for quicker updates – these are exactly the sorts of things worth sharing with others. Now that the cast-in-place concrete wall has been placed, the rest of the exterior structural steel elements can start being installed. The shop drawings for these two sets of stairs was rather large and the process to go from our design drawings to the fabrication drawings of each and every single piece took some time – but I imagine everything will start coming together really quickly.