Stairs are Complicated

“Stairs are Complicated” says Bob Borson in an article on the website Life of an Architect and I wholeheartedly agree! Especially if you come from a non-architecture background, particularly furniture and cabinetry design. I can’t say how many hours I have spent drawing stairs in 2D using construction lines which ended up playing with my vision (aka optical illusions), confusing both me and the result.

3D drafting and more specifically Rhino with Grasshopper brought a radical change in my methodology. My stairs will never be the same!

I did a 3D study using Grasshopper, namely, I created a few different definitions (algorithms) to generate the various types of stairs in Rhino: rectangular stairs with winding at the bottom and at the top; spiral stairs; oval or generic curve footprint stairs. In case of the rectangular and the oval footprint stairs the input data consists of the plan of the stairs and a few numeric variables (riser height, width of guardrail base, height of railing, etc), while the input for the spiral stairs is all numeric data, like interior and exterior radius, number and height of risers (calculated in advance), etc.

Stair types studied and definition detail

Using these definitions in 3D provides the following benefits:
• the drawing time is hugely reduced as these stairs can be created practically instantaneously with the “generator” and pasted into the current drawing. The only time needed is for the prepping of the input.
• the orthogonal projections will always be correct, no matter which vertical plane we choose for the projection.

The resulting stair drawings can be exported from Rhino to other software (AutoCAD, 3D Studio Max, Sketchup, etc). A very interesting feature I have yet to try is 3D printing of drawings of solids created in Rhino, which are compatible with various 3D printing devices.

Please watch the demo videos below of the stairs created using the different stair generators.

Stairs with Rectangular Footprint
Spiral Stairs
Stairs with generic oval footprint

Note: the music I used in my videos was composed and played by musician Norman Learo – Montreal born friend of my husband – who passed away several years ago.