Stairs are one of the oldest building elements in the history of architecture - however, it is difficult to precisely date their date of origin.
The stair construction seemingly changes throughout the architectural ages, reflecting the prevailing world views and symbolic expressions of the time. The staircase construction brings out both the talent and ingenuity of its builders.
Markiewicz successfully combines exclusive design and traditional craftsmanship to create unique stair constructions. Since 1996 we have been very successful in staircase construction - we aspire the highest standards in terms of design and quality - always incorporating the history of staircase construction.
Staircases as architectural masterpieces
Among all architectural elements, stairs hold a unique position. They can put a building of which they are a part completely in the shadows - something they do very often indeed. Both in the past as well as in the present - some artistic staircases have been built utilizing all the imagination available. Sometimes we are inspired by the technical know-how, sometimes by the external appearance, the form, the materials or the specific structural design. Stairs are just as indispensable to our everyday life as an outstanding event or an unforgettable experience.
Stairs usually match the people for whom they were built and provide us with information about the state of the art, fashion and technology. They are the emblems and distinguishing marks of a constant source of inspiration and an endless history.
To this day we can visit and admire some of the earliest staircases in their original splendour. Usually, stairs led to a very high point and were supposed to facilitate our ascent to the summit, such as Mount Olympus. How else could one have reached such high destinations if not by endless steps?
Building stairs is a necessity
The initial reason for the development of stairs was probably the necessity to overcome difficult, varying terrain heights as comfortably as possible. The rock formation of the earth presents us with hills and valleys, steep rock walls and shallow water channels, slopes and plains that even the prehistoric man wanted to explore, conquer and discover. The first elements of the later constructive staircase can be traced back to the footprints that were trodden up and down the slope, from which prehistoric steps that were easier to climb developed over time.
All the arbitrary incisions in foot banks and sand dunes, the shortcuts through slopes, the carved out reefs or the handles in rocks make up the opening chapter in the history of stair construction. It is not difficult to understand that functional rules were instinctively or empirically applied in the construction of staircases. They were dictated on the one hand by body shape and size, and on the other by gravity. The relationship between tread and step height inevitably determined the inclination of the staircase, as did the angle of the slope or a rock face.
Design in staircase construction
The ancient temples or pyramids in Egypt and elsewhere were often stepped. Sometimes one gets the impression that the aesthetics of the staircase itself were so expressive that the architects used their form as if possessed - and not only because of the elementary construction principle of a stepped level, holding the ensemble together.
The shape of the pyramid, its staircases and steps, in general, may be in a much greater context than we can comprehend today - yet the craftsmanship and size of the works rightfully evoke our astonishment and admiration.
Staircases in perfect harmony with nature
In the first millennium B.C. the Etruscans in Italy cut stairs out of the ground to access their temples and tombs. Two thousand years later, the massive, stepped terraces in Machu Picchu (ca. 1550) in Peru formed a magnificent landmark. The process of approaching stairs from the perspective of landscape can be found in the cathedral in Wells, England, from the thirteenth century. It invites its visitors to enter the Capital Hall through a sea of single steps. About four hundred years later, at the beginning of the eighteenth century, the cascade was built in Chatsworth House, Derbyshire England, probably the most beautiful and unusual example of landscaped steps.
Craftsmanship in staircase Construction
Approximately two centuries earlier, during the Renaissance, the emphasis in stair construction was placed on the human rather than the nature. It was during this period that exceptional craftsmanship was applied to projects that were on the one hand difficult and tangible and on the other light and subtle. Gradually, the artists began to express their artistic visions in the form of staircases, with such impressive results as Michelangelo's staircase in the Biblioteca Laurenziana (1524) or Leonardo da Vinci's characteristic visionary design of a mechanical staircase. Da Vinci's elegant spiral staircase also presents itself at its best during this period. A relatively simple example is the staircase in the Great Cloister (1550) in the Mosteiro de Cristo in Tomar, one of the most important historical buildings in Portugal.
Later, throughout the Baroque period, the staircase was so important that it was often built in the same way as a building - either as an extension or as a house within a house. Bernini's spiral staircase (1638) for the Palazzo Barberini in Rome is indicative of this. The careful sequence of forms and details and even taking into account the care that would later be required were at the top of the list of architects' tasks in this age.
Astonishing staircase constructions
When Johann Wolfgang von Goethe suggested the construction of an extension (1803-1805) to the Duchess Anna Amalia's library in Weimar in the middle of the eighteenth century, a considerable spiral staircase with a single oak spindle was installed. The degree of craftsmanship demonstrated there exceeded all expectations of a "simple" library.
Later in the nineteenth century, an even broader range of artistic and monumental staircases appeared in residential buildings, operas, in theatres, town halls, museums and railway stations. The all too theatrical qualities of the staircase at the Paris Opera by Charles Garnier (1875) even covered its construction principle. The overwhelming spectacle - with its sensuality, excess, extravagance and exaggeration - could be compared to the extremes of the late Baroque period.
Decorativism also belonged to one of the creative methods of the Art Nouveau master Victor Horta. His soft, delightful and floating manner seems to have made every material compliant, including the stairs in his own self-designed house in Brussels (1898-1900).
Craftsmanship in stair construction
Only six years later, long before the groundbreaking exhibition of decorative arts in Paris in 1925, Henry van de Veldes built a simple staircase for the School of Architecture in Weimar. Those stairs of the Modern Movement - perhaps due to the conscious decision to redefine the laws of construction and reduce the excesses of Art Nouveau - are examples of an emerging aesthetic and an unusual degree of craftsmanship.
The wave of enthusiasm for new materials and techniques which was so prevalent during the 1930s is also reflected in Auguste Perret's work for the Paris Economic and Social Council. The double staircase built there in 1937 is remarkably well executed. The efforts made over the past 60 years to promote the use of concrete have hardly surpassed Perret's elegant construction and quality workmanship. Their modest design has led to a potentially unsupervised sublimity.
It would be a blatant omission not to mention the remarkable Carlo Scarpa, whose career spanned half a century, when discussing twentieth-century staircases. His staircase (1970-1972) in San Vito, Italy, designed for the Brion cemetery, is an excellent example of his ability to arrive at a monumental solution despite a very limited palette of materials. His skilful play of light and shadow contributes to an exemplary overall effect.
Modern materials in staircase construction
In the past, imposing staircases were reserved for the richest and most powerful - modern materials allow them to be made available to an increased number of people and a wider range of building types.
In a home designed by Charles Vandenhove in Namur, Belgium, the elegant, controlled double staircase reflects strict discipline. Yet it also conveys a sense of timeless monumentality.
Oscar Niemeyer created one of the most renowned stair silhouettes of the post-war era for Brazil's foreign ministry - the Palacio Itamaraty (1958). Without the handrail, the staircase would never have passed the safety regulations of the time. But from a technical and architectural point of view, it's magnificent - does it represent a sculpture, a staircase, or a variation of the visionary on the spiritual theme of a staircase?
A look at contemporary staircase constructions and the recent past demonstrates how much of a change history has undergone and how our lives have taken on a different dimension. The historical staircase examples mentioned here demonstrate a wide variety of methods, ideas and executions - but also their dependence on architectural styles and philosophies. Somehow everything used to be a little more decorative, while being more straightforward - combining fashion, architecture, society and life as a whole.
With the post-war globalisation, rapid communication, technological advances and scientific discoveries, anything is possible - and almost anything is tolerated. The birth of the industrial design did not leave the stairs unaffected. Prefabricated houses and staircases joined the family of mass production.
Whatever the future may bring, it is important to absorb, enjoy and admire a rich present. Even a complicated staircase is only a small part of a building's total investment. And architects still have a relatively large scope for research. The question of stairs is probably only the salt in architectural soup, but without them there would be virtually no flavor!
Markiewicz - your expert in staircase construction
Inspired by the largest, most historic, most exclusive staircases, designers and architects, markiewicz considers its mission to be the historical staircase builder of the 21st century in the most important architectural styles - from Baroque to Art Nouveau, the organic style, and classical English style up to the Bauhaus style and the contemporary modern staircase architecture.
We manufacture staircases based on the history of staircase construction and traditional craftsmanship. We always strive for the perfect design and implement the optimal staircase solution individually for our customers.
Let yourself be inspired by the unique beauty of our artistic staircase constructions. We are looking forward to providing you with a comprehensive consultation!