A staircase is one of the most important building elements when it comes to constructing a structure with higher levels. The History of Stairs is that the history of longevity itself, of the constant replication of an equivalent structure and performance. And to tell the story of stairs is to tackle the challenge of telling a never-ending tale that’s part history, part fiction. There’s much more to a staircase than meets the eye!

Evolution of staircase throughout the history of architecture

Exploring the duality within a staircase is not something you think about every day, and you might be wondering: is there that much to say about staircases? Well, when you work at a stairlift company, you inevitably analyze stairs and staircases in all their shapes and sizes, depending on their context and function. Before you recognize it, you discover yourself an excellent contemplator of staircases, either amazed by their grandeur or unsettled by how steep they’re. We want to tell you all about the fascinating world of staircases! Staircases in Nature

Staircases are often found in virtually any building, whether it’s ancient or modern. But they can also be found in perfect harmony with nature. It seems as if we have become dependent on this structure, just like we have become dependent on the wheel. Just like when the primary ape discovered that it could break a nut with a stone, there must be a primary stair builder – an individual who first laid stone after stone or built a ladder to climb to a better place. Was that moment a Eureka moment for our species? Or was it such an obvious step that different individuals, from different civilizations, with no contact whatsoever, happened to discover it individually? Was its nature itself that provided them with hints through natural stair-like shapes that humans tried to imitate later?

Millions of years before humans came along and began encoding the planet around them, planet earth had already created visually stunning steps of its own. These examples provide an answer to our question. All you have to do is look at a picture of the beautiful Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland – an area of about 40,000 interlocking basalt columns, the result of an ancient volcanic fissure eruption about 50 million years ago – to see an example of an intricate, elaborate staircase in nature.

And actually, naturally-occurring staircases may have provided the required inspiration for human-made structures since the start of your time. But what inspired us, humans, to start building our own? The obvious answer is geological dangers. After all, we’ve always needed to find solutions to overcome physical obstacles when we’ve wanted to gain access to higher ground. And it’s not that big of a jump to go from naturally-occurring staircases to man-made structures in nature. Just take a glance at these man-made stairs that completely blend in with nature to make magnificent settings for breath-taking views. For thousands of years, before stair-like structures were used inside houses, they were built into nature to supply access to foreign places, especially on mountains or islands.

To write about such a universal architectural element isn’t an easy task, especially when stairs are available in numerous forms. The most basic shape for stairs is often found within the sort of a ladder or climbing poles. These kinds of structures have been used since the Neolithic period and were often built to defend against other humans and wild animals, as they could easily be removed or hidden. At the very point when it seemed that staircases couldn’t become any longer complex, helix staircases appeared. A beautiful example is a staircase in Château Chambord, in the Loire Valley, France. It is believed to have been designed by Leonardo da Vinci. A double helix staircase allowed guests, servants, and royals to simultaneously move up and down the stairs without ever crossing paths.

“The Staircase: The Architecture of Ascent”, by Oscar Tusquets Blanca & Martine Diot, 2013, explores the history and meaning of the staircase, from an easy, straight flight of steps to a radical spiral staircase. It is interesting how we transitioned from simple staircases that suggested an uncomplicated route, to spiral or twisted staircases, symbols of power or status, spiritual elevation and therefore the climb to knowledge

In around the year 1200, mathematician Leonardo Fibonacci discovered the unique properties of the “Fibonacci sequence”, also known as Fibonacci’s Golden Ratio. The sequence of the numbers (0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34), if visualized, makes a spiral. The Golden Ratio was wont to achieve balance and wonder in many Renaissance paintings and sculptures, Leonardo being one among the artists who made use of it. Almost every spiral staircase forms this sequence, meaning that when looked at from a particular angle, they give the illusion of a never-ending staircase.

Staircases: A Widely Used Metaphor in Fiction

We all know the basic purpose of a staircase is merely utilitarian: it facilitates ascent and descent, i.e., it facilitates access to higher places. But remember we mentioned before that there’s more to a staircase than meets the eye? Literature, cinema, and painting are often a source of images associated with stairs and use staircases in various artistic narratives thanks to their extraordinary symbolic power. Some of the foremost famous film scenes set significant cinematic moments on or around staircases to reinforce the meaning of a scene and thus inspire grandeur, surprise, elegance, and beauty!

Future for Stairs in Modern Architecture

Until the nineteenth century, stairs were the only form of transportation to higher levels, and even now, stairs are necessary for all buildings to provide a safe exit route in an emergency. Looking into the future, it’s now clear that modern architects have started to focus on accessibility while designing stairs, so we think it’s safe to say that staircases will continue to be a vital part of buildings – even in the very distant future.


Pratiksha Mahakulkar is a third-year student pursuing architecture. An old school voracious reader and now explores her inner desire in writing out her mind and architecture. An impatient soul who can work efficiently when under pressure and approaching deadlines.