On another level: The unexpected power of stairs in the workplace.

Beauty and function combine to provide the magic employers need to bring their people back to the office 

Woods Bagot envisions that the new working normal to be a hybrid environment that balances the need for a physical company headquarters with the flexibility of working from home. In this new normal the physical workplace will need to extend itself to do more for its local community and work doubly hard to enhance employee experience by promoting a sense of identity, embodying culture and enhancing in-person interaction.  

Where does the staircase come into this? 

With so much flexibility rightly on offer, the physical office must draw on the dual powers of beauty and function to entice workers back through company doors. In order to embody company culture and promote a sense of identity, a workspace must include features that instill a sense of pride of place for workers – who are entirely justified to set the bar high for both elements when considering the commute to work.  

In terms of merging function with beauty, the staircase is second to none. Inherently striking and sculptural, stairs are a major opportunity for designers to create a gorgeous focal point that can become the heart of an office – becoming a visually stunning destination that promises respite from the occasionally claustrophobic reality of working from the same place you sleep, eat and relax. When we consider the rise of image-based media like Instagram, it’s easy to imagine the organic appeal of a beautiful workplace in terms of recruitment as well.   

The staircase is not just about beauty, or even vertical circulation. Designed correctly, the staircase can become a site for gatherings, meetups, and events. Impromptu or informal, stairs are a place of shared experience that can energize employees by creating opportunities to bond, collaborate and come together.   

Take a look (one step at a time) through some of Woods Bagot’s most beloved workplace staircases:  

Multinational Tech Co, Tokyo.

Inspired by the playful craft of origami, the Woods Bagot team created a functional sculpture that connects the campus’s 20 floors with a series of neatly considered folds. Galvanized raw steel and timber steps reference the clash of modern and ancient materials on Tokyo’s streets, marrying organic with futuristic to create a sense of optimistic cool that reflects the essence of bustling Shibuya. Unfolding through the space in a coordinated gesture, this dynamic staircase creates a community of connection made gentle with leafy plants and trees on each landing 

Sculptform Showroom, Melbourne.

We’ve long known that retail showrooms must offer something that can’t be found online and, with its elegantly tactile timber interior, Melbourne’s Sculptform studio knocks this brief out of the park with a physically immersive connection to product and process. At Sculptform, the staircase loops around the site in a choreographed motion that supports the space’s blurring of retail, workplace, event and installation functions. Sophisticated and simple, the stairs act as auditorium, wayfinding structure, privacy-giver and sculpture to provide a visually arresting, multi-purpose feat of local manufacturing, creativity and craftmanship.  

NAB Wynyard Place, Sydney.

The scarlet staircase at NAB Wynyard is the affectionately known as ‘the red thread’ because – not only does it connect eight levels of adaptable workplace – its weaving zig zag pattern is visible from street level. When viewed from above, the angle that each stair meets the edge of each void changes between levels, interrupting the rectilinear grid of the building form and instigating a scattering of built form on the floor plate. The design ensures that NAB’s signature red is put to strikingly good use as both visual drawcard and functional embodiment of collaboration thanks to its function as a connector between floors.

SAHMRI (South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute), Adelaide.

Located alongside the new Royal Adelaide Hospital, the South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute (SAHMRI) reinforces South Australia as a major center for medical research. The state-of-the-art facility accommodates approximately 700 researchers from around the world, and the spiraling staircase creates a sculptural focus that draws the eye to the building’s east atrium and soars up through the diamond-shaped plan.

Tencent Headquarters, Beijing.

At Tencent, the spiral staircase is reinvented into layered staircases with a generous landscape at their base. The central core design integrates two intersecting spiral stairs with mezzanine platforms, for an informal and collaborative workplace destination. Together with the atrium architecture and meeting rooms, the design solution is both functional and iconic; the stair activation is more than simply a means of travel, it’s also a destination to meet.

BHP, Adelaide.

The luminous copper stair at BHP Adelaide curves through the working landscape, connecting shared amenities over seven floors. The materiality pays homage to BHP’s mining heritage, while the stairs form and central placement within the office makes for a collaborative, inclusive and futuristic-feeling space.

Multinational Tech Company, San Francisco.

Affectionately called the ‘Harry Potter Stair’ because of the way it mirrors the sweeping grand staircase at Hogwarts, this aniline dyed green oak and steel structure stretches across the atrium void at unexpected angles – arriving at different locations at each floor. The design makes great use of its 5-story span by creating multiple vantage points to take in interior and exterior views while the placement of each landing is intentional to promote bump-in moments with users and make it easy for workers to circulate between spaces.

Talk to Ray Yuen about On another level: The unexpected power of stairs in the workplace.