Design: Tread Thoughtfully

by Kacey Larsen
2017 master design awards residential specialty

Design Strategy

We designed the stair with the express goal of correcting the traditional problem inherent in the typology of the townhouse: the family’s disconnect, experienced as a result of vertical living. Willfully detached from the building walls, spanning from floor-to-floor and paired with full-height glass, the sculptural stair serves as a unifying element for the house.


The stair is detached from the nearby walls in order to create the effect that the stair is floating. It also serves to bring natural light from the sun-drenched bulkhead deep into the lower levels of the building. The gaps also facilitate communication between floors, allowing the family to feel more connected. Because the stair structurally spans from floor to floor, it acts as a bridge connecting the floors of the townhouse. Though the transparency of the adjacent glass wall enables visual connectivity, its reflectivity at oblique angles creates a phenomenon of immeasurable depth and space. In spaces as constrained as townhouses, this effect has maximum impact.


The stair itself is indicative of Haute’s design philosophy—a study of contrast between the minimal and the intricate. At first approach, the stair appears pared down to its essential function and elegant in its quietude, yet as one moves to the other side, its intricacy reveals itself. The organic expression of the underside provides a humanistic touch to the architecture. Geometrically, the stair soffit is a series of hyperbolic paraboloids, interlocking together like a puzzle. The unique design echoed the client’s interest in mathematics.

Materials and Fabrication

The stair was digitally designed, and the complex components were fabricated directly from the 3-D model provided by our firm. Materially, it is comprised of pre-cast concrete treads, a central steel stringer and a pre-cast fiberglass reinforced gypsum soffit. The pre-cast concrete treads and gypsum soffits allowed for the precision required for the complex stair, while also keeping the costs of installation economical.

The stair goes beyond its primary purpose as vertical circulation by becoming a central organizing feature.  Here, form doesn’t just follow function; form creates function. |QR

Photo: Susan Fisher Plotner

Annie Lo and Torsten Schlauersbach founded Haute Architecture and Haute Interior in 2013. Both are award-winning architectural and interior design firms based in New York. Their body of work spans a broad range of scales and typologies, including private houses, apartment residences, special commissions, galleries, offices and retail. Though the spaces they create are often modest in character, the firm optimizes the built environment for clients through a rigorous and interactive design process. 

Their work has been featured in “Open House NYC” on NBC, New York Magazine and the Wall Street Journal,  and also has been recognized by the Chrysalis Awards in 2017.

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