Staircases by their very nature lead us somewhere, so photographers use this to their advantage – They choose a viewpoint that hides the far end of the staircase, enticing the viewer to wonder where it could lead. This ‘mental exploration’ adds mystery and engages the viewer.
In this article, I have showcased some of the most beautiful examples of Spiral & Helical staircases. A much needed appreciation goes for the photographers who captured the scene with the right emotion and at the right moment. Although these stairs are spiral & Helical by appearance, but they aren’t actually spiral in a literal sense. The term “spiral” is used incorrectly for a staircase from a mathematical viewpoint, as a mathematical spiral lies in a single plane and moves towards or away from a central point. A spiral staircase by the mathematical definition therefore would be of little use as it would afford no change in elevation. The correct mathematical term for these staircases would be “helical”.
The term “spiral” is used incorrectly for a staircase from a mathematical viewpoint, as a mathematical spiral lies in a single plane and moves towards or away from a central point. A spiral staircase by the mathematical definition therefore would be of little use as it would afford no change in elevation. The correct mathematical term for motion where the locus remains at a fixed distance from a fixed line whilst moving in a circular motion about it is “helix”. The presence or otherwise of a central pole does not affect the terminology applied to the design of the structure.
Helical or circular stairs do not have a central pole and there is a handrail on both sides. These have the advantage of a more uniform tread width when compared to the spiral staircase. Such stairs may also be built around an elliptical or oval planform. A double helix is possible, with two independent helical stairs in the same vertical space, allowing one person to ascend and another to descend, without ever meeting if they choose different helices (examples: Château de Chambord, Château de Blois, Crédit Lyonnais headquarters in Paris). Fire escapes, though built with landings and straight runs of stairs, are often functionally double helices, with two separate stairs intertwined and occupying the same floor space. This is often in support of legal requirements to have two separate fire escapes.
Both spiral and helical stairs can be characterized by the number of turns that are made. A “quarter-turn” stair deposits the person facing 90 degrees from the starting orientation. Likewise there are half-turn, three-quarters-turn and full-turn stairs. A continuous spiral may make many turns depending on the height. Very tall multi-turn spiral staircases are usually found in old stone towers within fortifications, churches and in lighthouses.