Staircases are, by their very nature, one of the most visually striking elements in architecture — they are one of the few components of a building that can be highly functional yet also incredibly sculptural, ebbing and flowing to fit whatever space is granted to them.
Core77 recently deemed this staircase in Portugal to be the world’s most beautiful, marveling at the structure’s sensual lines and complex geometry — not to mention the ornate timber carving on its underside. What makes this centerpiece even more astonishing is the fact that it was designed over 100 years ago, by engineer Francisco Xavier Esteves.
Its designer’s engineering background may go some way to explaining the extraordinary structural gymnastics on display — there is little to no support beneath the stair’s cantilevered “wings,” with a single pair of stately columns forming an elegant archway over the central core.
This stair is certainly one of the most stunningly voluptuous examples out there, and just goes to show that with this particular architectural feature, curves can be classiest. Here are six more shapely designs that channel the spirit of Esteves' flare for stairs…
National Olympic Committee House, Tbilisi, by Architects of Invention
The stair forms a metaphor for the dynamism of sport and free-flowing movement of athletes, as well as representing the spiraling ambitions of those who strive to realize their Olympic dreams every four years. The stunning serpentine structure is comprised of a steel base with MDF panels, and finished with a maple veneer.
Media Centre Oberkirch, Buhl, by Wurm + Wurm
Completed in Buhl, Germany in 2010, Wurm + Wurm’s elliptical stair was designed to serve a dual purpose: In addition to its primary circulatory function, the wide arc of the staircase allows light to enter the lower stories from a series of sculptural skylights above.
BarentsKrans Office, The Hague, by Hofman Dujardin Architects
Tasked with renovating a key space adjacent to the Dutch Parliament for a major law firm, Hofman Dujardin wanted to create a dramatic centerpiece within the atrium to contrast with the calm internal finishes. The cast-iron spiral staircase was designed to “catch the eye and make a bold statement reflecting the professionalism of BarentKrans, a leader in their field.”
Penthouse Flat, Clerkenwell, by Jeff Kahane + Associates
This helical staircase in central London is sculpted to form a miniature landing halfway up, where an oriel window allows light to flood in through multicolored panels of stained glass. The vibrant terra-cotta treads contrast brilliantly with the surrounding white walls, and their curvilinear forms are echoed throughout the apartment, with a serpentine breakfast bar and a series of portholes that give “Zen views” of St. Paul’s Cathedral on London’s iconic skyline.
Sensualscaping, London, by Atmos Studio
Atmos Studio utilized their incredible experience in bespoke carpentry to weave the “spirit and sensuality” of the outdoors into the built fabric of this house in Clapham, London. Their Gaudí-esque forms are produced using markedly more contemporary techniques than the Catalan master, as they explain: “The stair was entirely digitally fabricated using an intricate set of simply-cut but highly-detailed flat-pack elements…that perfectly slot together like an architectural jigsaw.”
The Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto, by Frank Gehry and Associates
Perhaps the most shapely of them all: King of curves Mr. Frank O. Gehry brought his signature sculptural style to the redesign of the AGO in his home city of Toronto. The gallery’s central lobby, Walker Hall, is home to a dramatic, twisting staircase that winds out of an arched entranceway and through the glazed roof like a gargantuan timber serpent. The understated, elegant nature of the surrounding space allows this flamboyant form to take center stage, with curves to rival those of the Esteves’ Porto library stair.
The Angry Architect
Images via Architizer