While learning design, we have always been taught that a staircase signifies ‘movement of the eye’. A well designed and placed staircase often becomes the first thing to draw your attention. The staircase of a house not only provides vertical circulation but is an important indication of the overall design of a house. It is often one of the first features you will see and can be seen from many angles so we believe it should be given significant attention to its design. In addition to being regarded as the father of Sri-Lankan Architecture, Bawa is also accredited to be the flag bearer of Tropical modernism as an Architectural style. Geoffrey Bawa was very particular about the design of staircases in every design such that every single design is unique. Ar. David Robson who was Bawa’s biographer published another book about just his staircase design called ‘BAWA Staircases’ in 2019, featuring Sebastian Posing’s photography. 

Here is a list of few of Bawa’s staircase designs 

1. Lighthouse Hotel, Galle

In the Jetwing Lighthouse hotel, the focus is on the main staircase. The atrium is framed by the spiral staircase and further ornamented by the sculptures of soldiers fighting in the battle of the 17th century. The staircase itself was designed by Bawa’s old friend Laki Senanayake and is conceived as a swirling mass of Dutch and Sinhalese warriors re-enacting the Battle of Randeniya. The entire space is set beneath a domed skylight, which “produces a shaft of light that tracks around the wall of the drum as the day progresses”

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Battle sculpture along the staircase ©e-Architect
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Staircase along circular atrium ©Archnet

2. Enna de Silva’s house 

The spiral staircase had a twisting cylindrical core around which the steps revolved. The spindling staircase is enclosed by walls on two sides perpendicular to each other. 

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spiral wooden staircase in angular niche ©Sebastian Posingis Archives
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Radial stairs ©Life online

3. Bawa’s Townhouse

This is yet another example of employing curvilinear elements in the staircase. The seamless transition at the angle between the handrail into the string beam of the next flight. The townhouse was created by connecting four cottages, one of which would be 3 storeyed. This dog-legged stair connected the multiple storeys. 

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the curvilinear angle between the handrail and the string beam above ©Sebastian Posingis Archives

4. Kandalama Hotel

The structure standing on the cliff has the main staircase open overlooking the valley. A large sculpture of an owl hangs in the central well at an intermediate floor. The sculpture’s eccentric nature and placement draw the eye towards it.

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Open staircase with hanging owl sculpture ©Archnet

5. Villa No. 87

This staircase is part of a renovated structure owned by Lidia Duchini. The small winding staircase placed in the middle of the living space. It had single wooden support connecting the landings. The short yet steep flights changed the orientation at every landing by a certain angle creating a  dynamic element in the design.

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Winding angular staircase ©Dezeen

6. Deraniyagala house

The wide spiral staircase in the Deraniyagala house had a hollow oblong core. Clear of extra support the Soffit provides a smooth curved surface and the stairs itself have a contrasting hardwood finish.

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spiral staircase with smooth soffit finish ©Sebastian Posingis Archives
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Spiral stairs with a hollow core ©Sebastian Posingis Archives

7. Ladies college 

Ladies college is a unique design as the landing isn’t provided exactly midway between the floors. This feature results in an offset between the flights meeting at the landing. 

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offset flights at landing ©Sebastian Posingis Archives

8. St. Bridget’s Montessori school.

The Montessori school has a curvaceous elongated stairwell connecting the floor. The lowered handrails, bright colours and the barricaded cut-outs are in consideration of a child’s height and eye level.

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Curvaceous access to the flight of stairs ©Sebastian Posingis Archives
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the elongated flight of stairs connecting to the subsequent floor ©Sebastian Posingis Archives

9. Raffle House, Colombo

The stairs in the Raffel house has a circular hollow core although the staircase block has a square plan with the steps revolving radially. The angle between the tread and the stretch varies slightly at every step. The treads had terracotta tile cladding. The handrails were finished with a curving hardwood handrail.

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The radial steps around the ellipsoidal core ©Sebastian Posingis Archives

10. Sunethra Bandaranaike

The Brick house with wooden embellishments has yet another unique staircase. An un-supported staircase with a narrow stretch was designed for a small living space. The short and steep flights changed the orientation at every square landing with a slight angular offset. 

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The narrow flight of stairs with no handrails ©Sebastian Posingis Archives

Bawa had completed over a hundred projects in Srilanka alone, yet every staircase designed by him was unique without a single repetition. Throughout Bawa’s portfolio, an impeccable platter of staircases with traditional materials is seen. His design of vertical and horizontal circulation accurately described Robson as creating or complementing the ever-changing vistas.

Manasi Khankhoje
Author

Manasi is a young architect who never ceases to be amazed by the stories told by historical structures. She appreciates the power of words as they say what the pictures can’t show. She believes that any piece of art is a form of expression and should be used wisely to say something important.

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