Vertebrae Staircase
by Andrew McConnell


This staircase concept by Canadian architect Andrew McConnell is based on a whale's backbone (+ slideshow).

Vertebrae Staircase by Andrew McConnell

Andrew McConnell came up with the Vertebrae Staircase concept by simplifying the shape of a whale's vertebra into a single component.

Vertebrae Staircase by Andrew McConnell

Each piece would incorporate one step, one banister and part of the hand rail, interlocking to create a rigid, self-supporting structure.

Vertebrae Staircase by Andrew McConnell

Two slightly modified components would be used to connect the floor plates, while metal fittings would mate one element to another.

Vertebrae Staircase by Andrew McConnell

"One benefit of this design is that its fabrication would require the production of essentially only one element repeated several times," McConnell told Dezeen.

Vertebrae Staircase by Andrew McConnell

"There are no other hidden supports as the Vertebrae Staircase is designed to act as one structural element, bearing the loads of its users and transferring these forces to the floor plates.

Vertebrae Staircase by Andrew McConnell

McConnell completed his Master of Architecture in Calgary, Canada, before starting work as an architect in Rotterdam, the Netherlands.

Vertebrae Staircase by Andrew McConnell

We've featured dozens of unusual staircases on Dezeen, including one built into a kitchen counter and another that looks like a slice of Swiss cheese – see all our stories about staircases.

Vertebrae Staircase by Andrew McConnell

We've also published objects made of bones collected from an abattoir and a range of handles and hooks shaped like sticks and bones.

Vertebrae Staircase by Andrew McConnell

See all our stories about staircases »

Vertebrae Staircase by Andrew McConnell

Here's some more information 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.

The Vertebrae Staircase is a reconfiguration of a familiar form and its connections, resulting in a unique yet functional piece of vertical circulation.

  • Leo

    Safety regulations aside, it would be interesting to place this inside Casa Batlló.

  • Richard

    Nice concept but not a legal stair in Canada.

    • Richard

      If not legal the lawyers will have a field day.

  • recon::decon

    How cute. Someone just learned how the subdivision surfaces command works in Maya. Moving on.

  • marks

    Looks nice. However I think it needs a central column for support. Otherwise I’m unsure of how it would function structurally. Reminiscent of Lovegrove’s spiral stair.

  • What is this supposed to be made of?

  • Henning

    Just one word: plastics.

  • Ema

    Instead of criticizing, draw something decent yourself. I personally don’t love the organic shape of it, but I find it very interesting. It could easily be made in a mix of fibers and plastic and used in private spaces as it is – or with a PC/acrylic/glass cylinder in the middle also in public places. This is a high end/research kind of product: why do you have to question everything?


    “why do you have to question everything?”

    Well, I always thought this was a vital part of a designer’s job. Isn’t it?

  • Bryan Gartner

    There is a difference between questioning in a condescending tone and in a constructive tone. I know the type of people I like to work with.

    Congrats Andy. Glad to see you’re exploring.


      I agree completely. Exploring and questioning are vital to design practice.

  • Beatrice

    “Why do you have to question everything?”

    Not a great comment to make.

    I guess my immediate question that is not indicated as solved in the text is how it works (rather than how it looks). The absence of a central column puts massive forces on the individual pieces.

    “There are no other hidden supports as the Vertebrae Staircase is designed to act as one structural element, bearing the loads of its users and transferring these forces to the floor plates”.

    I’m not sure this is enough. Significantly you would some kind of scaffolding to put it up. Easy to make something look nice in a rendering as it doesn’t need to function. But the beauty of a spiral staircase… is that it functions. It’s solved… but then I could suspend disbelief and say it would work.

    But, wouldn’t the woman wearing socks slip on the shiny black plastic?

  • Beautiful!

    But I find open sided staircases scary to use. Perhaps this comes from sleeping at a friend's, in a loft that had one, and having to use it to get to the john in the middle of the night. At least that one had risers, I can imagine so many ways to slip.

  • Breathtaking generative design. I really like the chiseled details. Nice project! Beautiful and organic.

  • I think this is a fantastic design!

    However, as with many architects’ staircase concepts, the most important design features have been conveniently glossed over with impressive renderings.

    In my view, it would be possible to manufacture this staircase but the key design features are missing, namely the fittings between each “vertebrae” and the connection details to the floors. In order to stop the staircase twisting, which would make the treads bounce, both “spine” and handrail fixings would need to be very rigid.

    I’ve been designing bespoke spiral and helical staircases for the last 15 years, and it always amazes me how many architects (young and old!) excel at producing stunning renderings, but lack the technical know-how needed to design such projects.

    I’d be very happy to be proved wrong on this project as I think it’s a stunning design that could look fantastic in the right setting.

  • Direction is key

    Hi Paul,

    I think a simple technique used in surfboard design could do the trick. Namely a core of CNC-milled dense foam, at least 18-20 lb with 3 layers of of composite lay up 1: Uni directional carbon fiber tabe spanning from vertical to tip, 1″. 2: Woven fiberglass sheets cute in the profiles to unify the directional forces. 3: a number of aesthetic weaves would do the trick or simply two more layers of woven fibre glass. That would take care of the bounce you speak of no problem. I’m not sure about the larger question of vertical structure but i imagine (from 15 years of fibre experience) if the face plates between the components interlocked and were left rough (sanded or un-resined fibres) then you would do a site layup component to component with very crude wood lattice supports (think a few two x 4s nailed together in cross sections). If done properly by any composite specialist the entire vertabrae would be actually structually linked! Again, the fibre layup and directionality is key but so very easy and doable.

    I feel sorry for those on this forum with no technical know how. It must be intimating to see something elegant and innovated. I understand you must use your limited knowledge of structure and building techniques to squash these ideas as “simple” renderings.

    • Hardly “simple” renderings! As I said, I think Andrew’s staircase design is fantastic and the renderings are stunning.

      Your understanding of carbon fibre techniques is impressive and you are obviously very experienced. I would be very interested in asking you some questions about forming these types of modular structures!

      However, it is not the modular carbon fibre construction that I was questioning. The information that I would really like to see explained is the translation from carbon fibre staircase to the building structure such as a steel beam or concrete slab. It is these connection details and their strength and rigidity that is “make or break” for a staircase design. Without these details the staircase remains just a concept and not a completed design.

      Despite our small talk and criticisms, I would love to see this staircase realised as I don’t recall a fully formed carbon fibre staircase ever being made.

  • bill williams

    Absolutely beautiful. A fantastic looking design. Would love to see it realized in the flesh and in other materials!

  • Hey, Paul. I completely agree with you. Here's an update:

    • Hi Andrew. Your details look like solid and practical solutions to the problems of fixing to the building structure. Have you also designed a floor-edge balustrade system to match the staircase design? If so, it could be the key to securing the handrail at the top of the stair.

      I really do think this a stunning design and would love to see a Vertebrae staircase put into production!

  • PS: Here’s a similar staircase design to prove that it is possible for a stair to work without an inner stringer or centre pole.

  • that guy said…

    You could say that you now know what it’s like to walk on a whales back… if ever the conversation somehow arises.