Dare to stair…

It’s not often that a physical interior workplace design feature can so swiftly polarise opinion and the tenant circulation stair is often a hot topic on any multi floor workplace fit out.

They can be expensive. Delivered across many floors with the required fire engineering solutions they can be really expensive. They can be an enormous technical challenge and they can look amazing, but what are the corporate benefits?


In a world where we can be connected by so many different technologies with varying reliability and quality the importance of face to face meeting for critical decisions has risen rapidly. There remains an advantage in understanding cultural nuance, reticence and agenda from a real conversation. The physically connected workplace enhances the opportunity for quick decisive conversations. Feedback from Activity Based Workplaces frequently includes formal meetings being cancelled as incidental conversations replace them. A stair multiplies this across different floors.

Stairs provide direct and user controlled connections, whereas the journey to the lift lobby and wait for the lift can cause delay and frustration – often resulting in reverting to sending an e-mail instead.

Facilities are more widely used when you can see them. Workplace cafes are easy to forget and less commercially viable when they’re on another disconnected floor and meeting rooms are far more easily shared when you can see that they’re empty and only a flight of stairs away. This results in a vertically connected workplace needing less meeting rooms.


Every leader talks about the importance of collaboration between their staff, its always a strategic priority and there are usually a few silos that leadership wants to break down. The most carefully planned and beautifully designed Activity Based Working floor will stop at the extents of a concrete slab if a stair and void doesn’t build the visual and physical link to the next floor. The smart stairs are wide enough for lots of people to pass, very comfortable and safe to use and incorporate oversized half landings to encourage the incidental conversation to happen right there. Ideally, they deliberately connect breakout or informal meeting areas on each floor to further the opportunities to meet and communicate effectively. The size of void is just as important as the stair, it needs to be large enough that activity and destinations on other floors can be seen.


Circulation stairs are an easy win for any organisation that suggests it wants to promote health and wellbeing. People talk more as the journey becomes easier. The quality of interaction increases, the connection between humans, shared vision, sense of purpose and belonging grows. Stairs are great exercise and – when the journey is simple and obvious – most people are happy to walk a lot more than one flight. Medibank in Melbourne literally built their brand with two stairs per level connecting 12 floors of their headquarters building. They wanted health initiatives to be overt and getting people obviously moving, is simple. Their stairs line a large void; voluminous enough for the public at ground floor to see right up into the building and for activity and interaction to be highly visible.


As well as exercise for staff circulation stairs significantly reduce pressure on lifts. At Ropemaker Place, London the tenant on floors 1-5 uses the lifts twice as much as the tenant occupying floors 6-11. 6-11 have a six-storey void and stair with 13 meeting rooms vertically linking two trading floors, a café and a client suite. Staff take the lifts from ground into the ‘vertical village’ and the stairs to move around within it. Lift usage was expected to drop; that it halved was a pleasant surprise.


A contiguous stair and void strategy addresses connection and collaboration in the strongest physical sense. It also allows for moments of sheer pride. For any employee turning up to work and knowing you are part of a 2,000 person workplace, being able to see those people, see work happening and feel the energy and capability of a crowd is a powerful tool in creating community. It’s entirely different to being tucked away in the corner of an isolated floorplate completely divorced from all those others that you can’t see. For clients an open atrium is a more potent weapon. At 50 Martin Place, Macquarie Group can take clients straight to the top floor where they can look down and see 2,000 people working across a number of business divisions and potentially working for them. It’s not the super slick corporate façade of old, it’s a genuine welcome right into the engine room.


Cost. Never to be confused with value…

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