Introduction

As I commenced the task of writing this book, I might have been asked 'Why another book on stairs?' This is, however, an abridged version of my husband Alan Blanc's book Stairs, Steps and Ramps which was published in 1996, the year after his death. True to Alan's thoroughness, the book was too long with too many illustrations and it was very expensive. I have now reduced it, in some cases by condensing the size of the diagrams, in others by omitting unnecessary examples, at the same time bringing in illustrations from recent buildings. The history of stairs has been omitted, but can be found on the publishers' website or, of course, in the original book.

Alan and I worked together for 50 years, first as students and then in architectural practice, and I was therefore very involved in the original book.

Alan had an obsession with stairs, starting with the London Blitz in 1940 when taking shelter night after night in the 'understairs' cupboard of his parents' Victorian terraced house. The actual space was of triangular section, panelled on one side, with a rough brick party wall on the other, whilst overhead there existed the full panoply of the carpenter's art, with glued and wedged treads and risers set into pine strings. The local ARP Warden advised 'understairs' for sheltering as the strongest structure within the home. A couple of houses further down the road were destroyed, so the young Blanc decided, as a game, to replan the family house in case theirs required rebuilding. He measured up the structure, and found that the stair was the most difficult feature to plan. How long was each step and rise, and what about headroom — do you hit your head on the first floor landing? This was his earliest planning exercise into architecture and it is not surprising that architecture became his vocation five years later.

The second turning point followed with the sudden flush of funds that permitted a buying spree in Tiranti's around 1948. The purchases included two volumes of L.'Architecture Vivante, en Allemagne (Erich Mendelsohn and Weissenhof) together with his most prized acquisition, Franz Schuster's Treppen. The book is prewar but was resurrected and reprinted by Hoffman of Stuttgart in 1949. Schuster gave detailed advice with inspirational concern for geometry that makes the art of stair construction equal to furniture in terms of exactness and line (Figure 1.1). These volumes still sit on our bookshelf together with a number of other books on the same subject.

The greatest influence in Alan's architectural education was working for Walter Segal on leaving college, where the pros and cons of Franz Schuster were fully aired, Segal having known this work pre-war. Working with Walter meant drawing out staircases to full size, including the balustrade, pinning the tracing to the wall where the stair was to be installed in order that the visual effect could be fully established. These stairs were often very finely detailed, leaving

Figure 1.1 Variations at well end (from Schuster, F., Treppen, Hoffman Verlag, 1949)

a Solid newel at well end b Twin newels at well end c Swept handrail (balustrade not shown but will infill between rail and strings)

almost an unsafe structure. Today, Codes of Practice and Section K of the National Building Regulations rule out those risks for domestic stairs where small children may use them unsupervised, but it is worth recalling that the minimal elegance achieved in the designs of Eva Jiricna is only obtainable by working in close collaboration with a qualified engineer, designing for public buildings where there are no children or where they are deemed to be supervised.

The historical references within Treppen started our interest in photographing stairs and in discovering the architecture of Gunnar Asplund, Roland Rohn or Otto Salvisberg that were drawn upon by Schuster. It is not possible to isolate the detailing solution from the context of the design. A typical example is Asplund's Courthouse at Gothenburg (Figure 2.7), where the movement sequence from entry court to loggia and stairhall leads with formal splendour to the courtrooms at first floor and thence by secondary means to the offices at upper levels. Such a 'promenade in space' is perhaps the finest achievement that well-designed stairs can attain. The open vertical circulation eloquently arranged at the core of buildings can certainly become the most captivating experience. Designs as diverse as Garnier's Paris Opera, Le Corbusier's Villa La Roche-Jeanneret and Lasdun's National Theatre in London all reveal the magic that is possible with creative designers.

Today, lifts and stairs as well as escalators form the core of all multi-storey plans, sadly often hidden behind solid enclosures to form uninteresting fire compartment zones. Modern technology using heat resistant glazing releases the architect from boxed-in solutions. Visual connection is once more feasible between vertical circulation and the spaces served. Pressure controlled environments can exclude smoke without recourse to the complication of double lobbies. Research for this book amongst older masterpieces in London often revealed that double lobbies are thwarted by having one set of doors permanently wedged open or simply propped ajar with a fire extinguisher. Today it is obligatory to provide access for the disabled, either by ramp or by stairlifts or hoists.

Outstanding developments such as the Lloyd's Building, London, or the Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank explore the new technologies and reveal that staircases and their modern equivalents can recapture the visual excitement that Piranesi (Figure 1.2) or Leonardo da Vinci awarded to stairs within the interior volume of their designs.

I hope that this new textbook will allow the reader to gain Alan's information in a condensed form, but at the same time to be enthused by our pictures and sketches. I hope Alan approves of my new version of his book.

Figure 1.2 An obsession with stairs, extract from Piranesi's Carceri, Plate VII (from Scott, J., Piranesi, Academy Editions, 1975)
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