Page H1 . 09 July 2003                     
ArchitectureWeek - Patterns of Home
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    Patterns of Home
    Pattern Six The Flow through Rooms: Passages

    ArchWeek Photo

    Travel along the edge of this family dining area connects everyone with the heart of the house yet leaves activities there uninterrupted. A beam, high overhead, subtly defines the edge of the circulation zone, and interior windows mark both end points.
    Photo: David Duncan Livingston


    We organize our homes along an "intimacy gradient" that places the most private, most secure places at the end of the passages through the house, beyond gateways, through many boundaries. The main entry admits a visitor only to the most public end of the gradient. Within the home, we use the forms of doorways and passages to create clear messages about the degree of privacy beyond. The gradient allows us to experience the house and its surroundings as a series of layers, with its deepest secrets and greatest safety at the farthest reach.

    Stairs can provoke intense responses. The grand staircase is a staple of movie sets and expensive tract homes, encouraging visions of a glamorous entrance or a significant retreat. Children have memories of hiding halfway down the stairs to watch adult activities below, and teenagers recall sneaking upstairs after hours. What is it about stairs that provokes these intense responses? And how can we design them so that they encourage the experiences that lead to fond memories and still meet our budget and space demands?

    The staircase itself can be a useful, dramatic space, with a profound impact on the floor plan. Staircases can be the focal point of all the circulation in the house; located near the entry, they can add height and drama to the space where people arrive. On upper floors, stairs can arrive at a generous hall that serves several rooms rather than at a narrow hallway. There are a variety of ways to create memorable staircases.

    ArchWeek Photo

    A privacy gradient places the most secure places at the end of the passages, beyond gateways, through many boundaries.
    Image: The Taunton Press

    ArchWeek Photo

    This staircase encourages use and enjoyment of every inch. The first two steps work as stair seats. On the first landing, a child-size nook uses the spaces below the stairs to create a cushioned window place. At the midway landing and at the top, windows provide light and view.
    Photo: David Duncan Livingston

    ArchWeek Photo

    Moving along edges.
    Image: The Taunton Press

    ArchWeek Photo

    Central circulation.
    Image: The Taunton Press

    Click on thumbnail images to view full-size pictures.

    Design a stairway to enhance the experience of a change in level, marking progress by providing interior windows to domestic views or windows that look out of doors and capture the sense of change in elevation. When possible, create stairs that twist or turn. The change of viewpoint adds interest to the trip, and the shorter runs reduce the chance of injury in case of a fall.

    Look for natural stopping points. A window seat at a landing or an overlook to rooms below creates an opportunity to slow down or a place to stop and rest. Walls located opposite the top or bottom of the stairway are natural locations for objects of special interest. Consider lighting to highlight artwork, a niche for sculpture, or a special window to capture a view.

    Provide natural light; it highlights the edges of steps to improve safety, and the changing patterns of light and dark give definition to the forms of the staircase. Stairwells create natural shafts to bring light from above down to a lower floor; placing skylights or clerestory windows high above will fill the staircase below with light.

    Use a staircase to help form an edge of a space or give shape to the space around it. The activity of the stairway will enliven the rooms it adjoins, and its volume will increase the sense of space.

    Patterns of Home

    Discuss this article in our Home Design Forum...



    Part of the ArchitectureWeek Patterns series. Text and images excerpted with permission from Patterns of Home: The Ten Essentials of Enduring Design by Max Jacobson, Murray Silverstein, and Barbara Winslow, copyright © 2002 The Taunton Press, Inc. The book is available from The Taunton Press and at

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