Why you should care about stairs

by Skender Construction
September 29, 2015

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Office stairs used to take you to one of two places: up or down. Today’s stairs can also take you across departments, into conversations and to the top of the world. 

In the next iteration of the open, modern office space, an interior stair will likely be a defining feature as organizations are taking more interest in culture and collaboration. Forward-thinking—or upward-thinking—tech companies, corporations, nonprofits and professional services firms are falling in love with modern stair designs.
 
A stair creates a focal point and becomes an architectural element in a space, comparable to a feature conference area or feature wall. The aesthetic influence of a contemporary stair can empower a brick-and-mortar business to wow visitors and elevate its brand, but it goes beyond visual impact.
 
Elevators and typical exit stairs discourage people from commingling and physically talking to one another. Instead, they pick up a phone or hammer out an email. A well-designed stair can break down barriers by physically connecting disparate teams and creating spaces built for socializing. For some, having an interconnecting stair has transformed how their people work, communicate and engage.
 
Oftentimes, stair construction is first to start and last to finish. Permitting issues, safety requirements, fire codes and other risk-carrying details must be managed appropriately. If you are interested in a connecting stair for your office space, here are four considerations that will help you get started with the planning process. 

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Purpose: Do you want your stair to influence company culture, impress guests or create the shortest distance between point A and point B? Do you want your stair to maximize the amount of daylight that shines in foyers or offices when used in conjunction with a mini loft, skylight or atrium? Your stair likely won’t be able to accomplish all of these things, so determine what you want yours to do before landing on a design. 
 
Structural Barriers: Whether you’re modifying an existing building or starting from the ground up, consider your structural barriers. Renovations are particularly interesting. For example, if your design calls for carving out a 60-by-80-foot footprint for a stairwell to climb three stories high, support structures will get in the way, and electrical and plumbing systems might be interrupted. Determining which columns and trusses have to stay in place and which ones can be removed without too much pain—money, time, labor—is critical. 
 
Concrete Slabs: Keep in mind that not all slabs are the same, and the type of concrete slab used in your office building will undoubtedly impact safety, price and complexity of the construction. For example, post-tensioned concrete slabs use steel cables to reinforce concrete, and must be approached with extra care any time they’re reconfigured. 
 
Fire Code: If you’re planning a stair that is two stories or more, you’ll need a comprehensive mechanical system that would move smoke out of the building and prevent it from spreading onto the floors in case of a fire. This system can be quite intricate depending on how many floors your stair will connect. 
 
Interest in interior and decorative stairs is trending up, but they can also be costly and time consuming. So when it comes to planning your stair, there’s no such thing as planning too early. Early involvement from trade partners and a general contractor will guide you to make the smartest decisions for your organization so you get a stair you love.
 
Each Stair has a Story 
Stairs are both cool and complex, and some are even engineering feats in themselves. Hopefully, these stories will leave you inspired and looking forward to the build. 
 
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The Curvaceous Stair
 
Located in a building that is curvy by design, PSAV’s stair slightly curves to complement the architecture. The entire team—architect, structural engineer, steel contractor and Skender Construction, worked together to design-build the stair to ensure each curvy piece of fabricated steel would fit together perfectly. High-intensity collaboration really reduced the risk of miscalculations and rework. 
Architect: Solomon Cordwell Buenz 
 
The Community-Building Stair 
 
Stairs don’t always have to be something you walk on; they can also act as a hub for relaxing, conversing or meeting. This stair at Motorola Mobility’s corporate headquarters offers platform seating for small group meetings at the mezzanine level, and wooden slats enclose it on three sides.  
Architect: Gensler 
 
The Floating Stair 
 
Typically, connecting stairs are structurally supported from the side, but this stair inside of a law firm is actually supported by one steel beam that runs right down the middle. This “floating” stair was structurally challenging, as each tread had to be set and balanced to 100 percent perfection. 
Architect: Gensler 
 
About the Contributors: 
Ashlee York is a senior project manager at Skender Construction. Ashlee has managed the construction of interior environments for countless clients, including PSAV, NORC at the University of Chicago, and SRAM. 
 
Andrew Halik is a project manager at Skender Construction. Andrew has managed construction projects and for a variety of clients, including Motorola Mobility, Braintree and Ropes & Gray. 
 
Photo 1: © Photo courtesy of Antuany Smith/Gensler
Photo 2: ©Eric Laignel
Photo 3: ©David Burk

 

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