Matt Dekker: Geometry Matters
Everything is connected.
For instance, if you want to install a dock in a body of saltwater in the state of Washington you have to go through an extensive permitting process. There needs to be shoreline impact statements and seabed surveys made by licensed and trained divers. County building departments give preference to a dock that can be installed in a north south orientation in order to minimize the amount of shading impact on the seafloor. To overly simplify, this is because shading impacts the growth of eelgrass, a widely distributed underwater grass that is essential to the healthy life cycle of our endangered local salmon populations. The health of our local salmon populations is in turn essential to the health of our locally endangered southern resident orca population.
While the orientation of your dock in the Puget Sound can affect the health of a population of five ton apex predators, the consistency of the rise and run of your staircase directly effects the graceful line of your handrail.
The shape of the tread on your staircase directly affects the geometry of your handrail. We see drawings from architects and designers all the time that show incompatible plan and elevation views. The intent of the designer is usually to have a consistent and graceful flow to the handrail without any kinks or facets. When a curved staircase varies the run it causes us to have to change pitch in order to remain within this range. We have tricks to help solve this problem, including changing the height of the handrail while remaining within the 34 to 38 inches allowed by modern building codes.
If all of this sounds complicated, it is. A curved staircase is an intricate dance of geometric principals manifested in three dimensions. While we have seen beautiful results produced by stair builders who got lucky once or twice. We’ve also fixed a couple projects where the luck coin landed on the other side. A spectacular staircase may be the single most expensive element in a home. It should be entrusted to someone who understands the intricacies of world class stair design.