Discover how floating stairs merge engineering and design. From structural calculations to various types, here’s a complete guide
Floating staircases, also known as suspended stairs, are one of the most fascinating design innovations in the world of architecture and interior design. But how do they work? How are they designed? To design a floating staircase, carefully evaluating its aesthetic impact and calculating the structure in compliance with technical construction standards can be greatly supported by architectural BIM modeling software.
What Is a Floating Staircase?
Floating staircases are a technological solution that combines functionality and design. Characterized by the absence of a central supporting structure, with steps anchored directly to the wall or another vertical surface, these stairs appear to “float” in space, offering a modern and clean look. While they may seem more suitable for a minimalist and contemporary design, with the right choice of shapes and materials, they can easily adapt to more classical environments and even historical or architecturally significant buildings.
In addition to their aesthetic impact, floating staircases are also a refined example of structural engineering, utilizing advanced materials and construction techniques to ensure stability and safety.
Let’s see how a floating staircase works.
How Does a Floating Staircase Work?
The charm of a floating staircase largely stems from its seemingly impossible design, defying the laws of gravity. So how can such a lightweight structure without a central support remain stable and safe? The answer lies in careful engineering and material selection. Generally, the steps of floating staircases are securely anchored to the wall through bolts or other forms of fastening. This, in order to distribute the load evenly. This arrangement allows for the optimal utilization of material properties, such as steel or reinforced concrete, to ensure that the staircase is stable and elegant. Structural calculation software is required to predict and mitigate any potential issues. In fact ensures a construction that is not only visually impressive, but also safe for users and compliant with construction standards.
Here’s how a floating staircase works:
- Wall Anchoring: The top of the floating staircase is securely fixed to a wall or supporting structure using robust brackets or structural anchors. This anchoring is essential for stability and safety;
- Steps: Floating staircase steps vary in material and shape. Generally they are made of wood, metal, or glass. These steps are anchored to the top structure of the staircase and extend outward. In this way it creates the passages for ascending or descending;
- Tension and Compression: The primary force that allows a floating staircase to function is the distribution of tension and compression between the wall and the steps. The top of the staircase transfers compression to the wall, while the steps resist tension. This force distribution is why a floating staircase can remain stable without vertical supports;
- Balance: The geometry of the floating staircase is designed in a way that evenly distributes the weight of the user ascending or descending on the steps and the support structure. This balance helps prevent sagging or collapsing of the staircase;
- Aesthetic Design: Floating staircases are often appreciated for their aesthetic and modern design. They can add an element of elegance and minimalism to building interiors;
- Safety: Despite their captivating appearance, it is crucial for floating staircases to be designed and constructed following rigorous safety standards. They must be made of robust materials, reliable structural anchors, and carefully calculated design to ensure user safety.
Floating staircases can be designed in various styles, materials, and construction techniques to adapt to architectural needs and design preferences. Here are the most common types of floating staircases that can be created.
Various Types of Floating Staircases
- Cantilevered Wall-Mounted Staircase – When the staircase runs along a load-bearing wall, creating cantilevered steps becomes a choice without significant structural issues. A common solution is to create a steel supporting element (called a stringer) to be embedded in the load-bearing masonry. In this way it can serve as the main support for the steps and handrail. This creates an extraordinary visual effect, with the steps seemingly emerging from the wall in an apparently suspended manner. Typically, the steps are made of wood (beech, oak, walnut, or other fine woods) without risers. For a striking visual impact, this option can be combined with a glass handrail, with panels fixed to the sides of the steps. These attachments can be made with visible stainless steel bolts or wooden cover caps to hide the screws. An alternative option is the use of an external wooden stringer.
Non-traditional cantilevered floating staircases
- Cantilevered Staircase Without Load-Bearing Walls – When there are no load-bearing walls adjacent to the staircase but instead elements like columns, partitions, or retaining walls, it is not possible to use a traditional cantilevered staircase. In these cases, our designers can develop customized solutions after conducting a site visit and analyzing all project details. One solution might be the installation of a cantilevered steel element with floor and ceiling attachment points. This solution requires the use of intermediate supports. The cantilevered element will resemble more of a steel frame structure than a stringer. After the installation of this steel structure, the wall can be covered with drywall or other materials to conceal the structure.
- Central Column Floating Staircase – When the building’s structure does not allow the installation of a traditional cantilevered staircase, an alternative solution is floating stairs with a central column. This column serves as the backbone and supports the weight of the staircase, ensuring maximum safety during use. We can design the central column in a minimalist or more robust style, depending on aesthetic preferences;
Floating staircases with glass walls
- Floating Staircase with Structural Glass Walls – In some projects, it may not be possible to place the staircase near a wall. For instance, this scenario occurs when the staircase is located in the center of a room, atrium, or hall in a prestigious building or hotel. In these cases, structural glass walls can be used to support the entire floating staircase structure. Glass walls are usually positioned on both sides of the staircase. They are designed to support the load of each individual step. The steps can be made of wood to harmonize with the floor or other surrounding furnishings. As a metter of fact,they can also be made of tempered laminated glass, adding an exclusive touch of lightness and elegance to the entire interior design. The glass walls are specially designed to support the staircase load and are fixed to the floor and/or ceiling. The steps are securely anchored to the glass walls using specially designed stainless steel bolts. That way we can ensure a safe and durable structure.
In addition to these most common types, it is possible to design cantilevered staircases with tread only, tread and riser, helical, L-shaped, in-line, etc.
Structural Calculation and Considerations
To design a floating staircase, it is essential to know the type of wall next to the staircase. Is it a load-bearing wall or a simple partition? This information is crucial for the structural design of the staircase. Elements such as chemical bolts and stainless steel spacers are used to anchor the steps to the walls.
Materials and Details
Steps are usually made of solid wood, such as beech, oak, or walnut, with thicknesses ranging from 80 to 100 mm to meet building regulations. Alternatively, resin and corian are gaining popularity as materials for steps. Handrails can be made of various materials, including glass panels attached to the sides of the steps or stainless steel. Attachment options range from visible stainless steel bolts to wooden caps that hide the screws.
Installation and Construction Phases
The installation of a floating staircase generally occurs in two phases: first, the installation of the supporting element (stringer) is , and then the completion of steps and handrails . In some variations, such as stairs directly fixed to the wall, installation may occur in a single phase.
Floating staircases are extremely versatile and can adapt to both modern and classic interiors. On one hand, they offer a “floating” appearance. On the other, they require a solid structural design, making each installation unique.
Advantages of BIM Software for Floating Staircase Design
The adoption of BIM modeling software in floating staircase design offers numerous benefits beyond simple graphical representation. Here are some of the key strengths:
- Choice of the Most Appropriate Type: The flexibility of a BIM environment allows for the exploration of different types of floating staircases much faster than traditional methods. You can quickly modify materials, sizes, and geometries and see how each variant integrates into the project context. This real-time experimentation greatly assists in choosing the most suitable staircase type for the specific project context;
- Structural Simulation: One of the primary advantages of using BIM in this context is the ability to perform structural simulations. Thanks to integration with structural calculation software, it is possible to analyze the strength and durability of the floating staircase under various conditions. This provides additional assurance of structural safety and allows for material optimization;
- Visualization and Presentation: Advanced graphical representation and 3D rendering capabilities of BIM software allow the creation of extremely realistic project visualizations. However, this is particularly useful when presenting the project to the client or other stakeholders. Being able to show a detailed simulation of the staircase within the context of the entire building can contribute to a more informed decision by the client;
- Project Consistency and Integration: The BIM environment facilitates project consistency. Any changes made to the staircase model are automatically reflected in all related views and documentation. This reduces the risk of errors and inconsistencies, ensuring that all team members are always up to date;
- Cost and Time Optimization: BIM efficiency allows for more accurate cost and time planning. We can use the BIM model for precise estimation of materials, labor, and time required, helping to avoid delays and resource wastage.
To delve deeper, also read:
- Technical Guide to Designing a Spiral Staircase;
- How to Design a Staircase: Criteria, Regulations, and Downloadable Examples.
Floating staircases are more than just a functional element; they are a statement of style and engineering. Whether you are an architect, an interior designer, or a design enthusiast, these staircases offer a fascinating way to combine functionality and style in a single architectural element.
So, the next time you consider installing a staircase, why not explore the captivating possibilities that floating staircases have to offer?