Direct flights

Direct flights of steps are often the most dramatic approach, particularly where they continue the line of movement from one level to the next on the main axis.

In the Renaissance the palazzo was frequently designed with the main state rooms on the first floor, the piano nobile. This was generally served by a grand, formal straight-flight stair. Key Renaissance examples are the grand staircase that

Figure 2.2 Key diagrams showing principal forms of steps
Northern Flight Dog Ladder

Figure 2.2 continued extended tread at base

Figure 2.2 continued leads to the Biblioteca Laurenziana, Florence, designed by Michelangelo in 1523-6 and completed by Giorgio Vasari in 1571 (Figures 2.3a and 2.3b), and the Palazzo Municipio, Genoa, 1564 (Figures 2.11a and 2.11 b). Visitors were not expected to go up to the second floor so these stairs were utilitarian, hidden as a dog-leg, placed out of sight. In England, the same treatment was often used in stately homes, where the main entrance hall is the grand gathering place and the stair rises from there. A good example is Holkham Hall, Norfolk, 1734, executed by Matthew Brettingham (Figure 2.4).

One of the most impressive ceremonial stairs is at Hradcany Castle, Prague, 1920— 2, by Joze Plecnik, where an impressive wide stair leads directly to the door of the main chamber (Figure 2.5).

Today there are many fine modern examples of the use of ceremonial stairs. At the Aarhus City Hall, 1937-42, by Arne Jacobson and Eric M0ller (Figures 2.6a—c), the formal sequence follows a generous foyer placed below the Council Chamber, and the connecting formal steps are sited on the main axis with balconies leading to the first floor suite

Figure 2.3a General view of Laurenzian staircase, constructed 1571 by Giorgio Vasari (courtesy of Kina Italia, Milano, Italy)

Figure 2.3a General view of Laurenzian staircase, constructed 1571 by Giorgio Vasari (courtesy of Kina Italia, Milano, Italy)

Figure 2.3b Biblioteca laurenziana (from Ackerman, f. S, The Architecture of Michelangelo, Penguin, 1970)

(Figure 2.6a). A curving descending flight serves the cloakrooms and lavatories arranged out of sight in the basement (Figure 2.6b). The galleried atrium giving access to the general offices, which might unkindly be described as a modern-day penitentiary, is serviced by separate stairs and glazed lifts housed within a visible core at the end of the hallway. The contrast in finish and geometry between the richness of the entry and the simplicity of the office domain is sufficient to mark the different zones. The use of balcony and suspended forms to dominate the foyer makes a perfect foil to the spaces served.

Again, at the Courthouse extension at Gothenburg, by Asplund, 1937, the new

Figure 2.4 Holkham Hall, Norfolk

wing is placed at the edge of the older courtyard building (Figure 2.7a—c). The entry is turned through a right-angle, with the prospect of the new staircase rising behind a two-storey height window. The axis is turned again towards the cere monial route to the first floor courts and to the glass enclosed lift. The principal rooms are laid out on three sides of the stairhall on both floors, and there is a separate stair at the end of the upper floor leading to offices for the court officials. The prece-

Figure 2.5 Ceremonial stairs, Hradcany Castle, 1920-2 (Joze Plecnik)

dence of the first floor is announced by the single monumental flight within a two-storey volume and signified by the greater ceiling height. The lighting levels to the staircase are also enhanced from the upper hall by clerestory lighting to balance the full-height glazing to the courtyard. The single flight appears to lightly bridge the 12 600 mm span although it is cleverly suspended by steel tubular sections from the floor beams overhead. The gentle proportion of tread to riser (360 mm to 110 mm) and the gracious sweep of the handrailing without breaks in alignment produce one of the most perfect stairs to look at and enjoy in use.

Ceremonial direct flights are frequently placed adjacent to a wall or situated between two walls. Oslo City Hall, which is almost contemporary, was largely built in wartime and signified an emblem of resistance to Nazi occupation. The over-elaboration has to be seen as Norwegian self-expression in the face of adversity. The great inner hall has a Renaissance courtyard scale with a direct flight of gargantuan steps leading to the balconied upper floor designed for anticlockwise movement through the public rooms (Figure 2.8).

In the Arthur Sackler Museum at Harvard, USA, 1984, Stirling and Wilford designed the staircase to be the spine ascending through the core of the plan. It has a central light well slotted into the length of the block with direct flights rising towards the light (Figure 2.9a and 2.9b). The lighting is gained via a fenestrated wall towards the office area. The tubular handrail is lit on the underside to give dramatic illumination at night. The same architects designed a similar stair at the Clore Gallery extension to the Tate in London (Figure 2.10), where the stairs to the principal space rise within a roof-lit well.

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