Spiral staircase inspired by a whale's spine

Spiral staircase? Yes please. Spiral staircase modeled on the spine of a whale? Hell yes!

Andrew McConnell conceived of this system as a modular set of components that can be deployed in a spiral, each element supporting the next – the only variation would occur in the top and bottom pieces that connect to landings.

...From the designer: “Inspired by the spine of a whale, the Vertebrae Staircase is not simply mimicry of organic form but an exploration in shaping structure. Much of the design work went into refining the single component, or vertebra, that mate with each other creating a unified spine running from floor plate to floor plate. These interlocking vertebrae provide a rigid structure for the steps, railing and its users. And the railing is reinforced by connections that help the staircase resist rotational forces caused by the cantilevered steps.”

Spinal Staircase: Bare-Bones Steps Inspired by Vertebrae (via Neatorama)


    1. Canst thou draw out Leviathan with a building code?  or his tongue with a zoning ordinance which thou lettest down?

      Well, yeah, I suppose thou canst, depending on the jurisdiction.  And to be honest, the description sounds pretty conventional for a spiral staircase: or are there plenty of others out there which don’t provide rigid structures or resist rotational forces from cantilevering steps?

      1. There’s no inner railing or central pole.  That’s like building a second-floor room missing the outer wall and saying that it’s safe because it has those three other walls.

          1. But of the actual verbal code requirements, only #7 might apply.
            But yes, no inspector is going to sign off on a staircase a toddler can fall off of.

        1. You call it against code. I call it chlorine for the gene pool. Only real problem I can see is: how will wide people pass each other going opposite directions?

        2. “Spiral staircase inspired by a whale’s spine.”

          Lack of inner railing inspired by Timmy from “Lassie.”

    2. “We loved our nifty whale spine staircase until Susie bumped Bobby off the upper steps and he fell halfway down, cracking his spine and almost breaking his neck.”

    3.  That’s art.  Building codes don’t apply to art. 

      You don’t climb on art, either, as a general rule, so just what is that model doing?

      Also: it’s a helix, not a spiral.

  1. Reminds me of the “miraculous” spiral staircase in Santa Fe.  http://www.lorettochapel.com/staircase.html

      1. Miracle or not, it is a beautiful spiral staircase with no central pole.  That’s what I referred to more than anything.

  2. It really is a pity that he spent so much time on a design that can never be used (as others have mentioned, building codes for staircases are quite specific about the handrail/central pole thingy). As art this would be nice enough (it IS pretty), but as architecture it is an abysmal failure (architecture is meant to be used and has to comply to code).

  3. It isn’t that it has to comply to code so much. The code represents the result of years of experimentation by folks willing to give their life or limb for progress. Oh, wait, they weren’t willing, but they did it and now we know what a good stairway should be like. We don’t need to speculate about what humans need to safely ascend or descend. As a community we agreed to record the results of all these experiments and make sure that the results are respected so other innocent people don’t have to give up their safety for the sake of ego or idiocy.

    It’s just a case study, though. “not intended for production” just to look good on his next teaching application. So, whatever.

    1. and you can be sure that most architects and even teachers of architecture look at that and say, “sure, its easy if you ignore all the hard stuff.”

      1. and, speaking as a sculptor, there is a lot wrong with that form. It isn’t beautiful, it’s awkward.

        1. In his house at R’lyeh, dead Cthulhu hauls his ass to the second floor.

          Don’t be so hung up on three-dimensional, Euclidean aesthetics.

  4. Even if it had a central pole, I don’t think it would pass. The Life/Safety Code limits the space between balusters to no more than 4 inches. Unless there is an exception for Cthulhu that I don’t know about.

  5. Years ago on Extreme Homes they featured a home owner who had built a home in either New Mexico or Arizona. The home was more or less round, and the owner was bonkers. She had started by drawing a vague “piano” shape on a big sheet on paper, managed to find an architect who would make a model for her, and then, amazingly she went on to actually build the thing, even designing custom furniture. The house had the kitchen at the center as a sort of central hub, and the other spaces spun out around the edges. The roof was made using round roofing tiles that were installed upside down – I have no idea how well that functioned but it looked incredible. 

    To me, these spiral and round shapes seem to be so suited to our personal sense of wellbeing. Her home, as weak as she was at communicating her vision in words, seemed soothing and nurturing in a way that boxes and sharp edges are not. The layout seemed practical.

    This stairway to me seems to have that same sense of comfort and ease in its form. It seems that the structural issues could be resolved in a pleasing way. I’d love to see more shapes like this in architecture.

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