Monday, April 18, 2011

Temple Spiral Staircases

When The Tolmans suggested that I write a post on LDS temple staircases, I don't think they considered how broad of a topic that really is.  There are internal and external staircases.  There are multiple configurations of staircases.  I've been organizing what to write on staircases for the last week or two and have decided that the topic will require multiple posts.  I'm going to start with spiral staircases.

Spiral staircases are perhaps the most impressive type of staircase.  They require great skill to build.  Their form has a special grace that makes them among the most attractive staircases around.  The Kirtland Ohio Temple staircases are curved, although I don't think you would consider them full spiral staircases.  Here are some examples of temples with proper spiral staircases:

The Nauvoo Illinois Temple (original and rebuilt) has spiral staircases without central supports, similar to those in the Manti Temple.  I was told that in the rebuilt Nauvoo Temple the staircases are not free standing because they couldn't figure out how to make them work.  It is much more likely that the engineers decided not to make them free standing for other reasons and decided this was fine because they still look the same.


When I visited the Nauvoo Temple, the workers told us that President Hinckley asked the nearby Shaker community (it may have been the Mennonites) to do the woodwork for the temple including these very nice hardwood railings.  If you don't know, the Shakers (and Mennonites) are famous for their craftsmanship.  The Shaker congregation was invited to tour the completed temple before its dedication.  This is a great example of including other faiths and getting along with others as Christ would have us do. The rebuilt Nauvoo Temple does not include spiral staircases in all four towers.  Apparently the current building codes would only allow a few to be spiral.  They have wisely chosen to have a spiral staircase  lead to the dressing rooms and the baptistery so that all patrons will get to see the staircases.

Another spiral staircase is found in the Nauvoo Temple bell tower seen here.

The St George Utah Temple was the next built and it has spiral staircases in the corners.  I haven't found a photo of them yet; however, I asked to see them the last time I visited the St. George Temple and they showed them to me.  I recall that they had central supports.  I also noticed that they don't air condition the staircases - they were really warm.

The Logan Utah Temple was built next and it has spiral staircases in the four corner towers.  I think they are still there in the remodeled temple, although I have never seen them and do not know if they will show them to you.  The pictures to the left show these staircases.  The first shows them looking up from the assembly hall level.  They are free standing from this level up.  The next photo shows a view looking down and the last shows a view walking down the stairs.  

When the Logan Temple was being remodeled they wanted to run conduits through the center supports of the spiral staircases.  When they tried this they discovered that the central supports are solid stone.

The Logan Temple has had several fires over the years.  A fire in 1917 destroyed a spiral staircase that used to be in the middle of the temple (led from the celestial room back to the first floor) and it was replaced with an orthogonal staircase, which has since been demolished completely when the temple was gutted.

The Manti Utah Temple was built next and has some of the most unique spiral staircases in the world.  In the two west corner towers there are freestanding spiral staircases without central supports.  If you attend this temple, ask a worker to see the staircases and they will take you to see them.  They have incredible craftsmanship.  When they restored the temple for the centennial they found something like 2 creaks in the one staircase and none in the other, despite being heavily used by temple workers and used by patrons to access several sealing rooms in the towers.  The seams between pieces of wood on the railings are also extremely difficult to find.
I said that these were some of the most unique staircases in the world.  That is because there are only a few free standing spiral staircases that lack central supports in the world.  I believe there are only eight in the U.S. with two being in the Supreme Court Building (those are elliptical).  So the Manti Temple spiral staircases are really special.

One of the staircases goes up clockwise and the other counterclockwise.  They really are an impressive sight and a great asset of the Manti Temple.

The Salt Lake Temple was built next and it includes eight spiral staircases.  All have central supports.  The four corner towers have solid granite staircases.  These have a nice dark wood wainscot.  I have only seen these towers from the baptistery level.  There they have actually installed restrooms on the staircase (weirdly shaped and tight, but interesting).

The other four spiral staircases are found in the priesthood assembly hall.  Here, four spiral staircases provide access to the balcony seating.  These show fine woodwork. and wonderful carpenters' skills.  I hope to see them some day.

The next temple to include spiral staircases, that I am aware of, is the San Diego California Temple built in 1993.  It includes a very modern spiral staircase.  As you can see, the staircase has exquisite woodwork.  It is also very open, which is important as it allows all the light coming through the art glass windows to permeate the temple.

Looking up from this staircase you get this wonderful view.
The last spiral staircase that I know of in an LDS Temple is found in the newly built Copenhagen Denmark Temple.  This temple was remodeled from an existing church that was gutted, so there is a chance that the staircase was part of the original church.  If not, I am glad to see the church go out of its was to include a spiral staircase.  This staircase is also not centrally supported, making it even nicer.  I love how the light floods into the temple from a well placed skylight.

Those are the spiral staircases I know of in Mormon Temples.  If you know of others please comment.  Also, If you have a photo of the St. George Temple spiral staircases please let me know.  I would love to have one.  Please comment and let us know what you think about these staircases.  In the future I will post about other temple staircases.  There is a lot more variety in them than you may realize.


Travis Brinton said...

"That is because there are only a few free standing spiral staircases that lack central supports in the world. I believe there are only eight in the U.S. with two being in the Supreme Court Building."

But your article lists quite a few spiral staircases that lack central supports. The missing caveat is that they be made of wood. There are only a few *wooden* spiral staircases in the world that are of significant size and have no central support. So the rebuilt Nauvoo Temple doesn't count in the same category, since its staircase is built of reinforced concrete.

Neither does the Supreme Court building's staircase, since it's made of marble (made possible because it's cantilevered through the wall). The DC building you're thinking of is The Octagon House, the home of the American Institute of Architects. Yet its spiral staircase is only three stories tall. I question whether the oft-repeated claim that only the Octagon House and the Manti Temple have such staircases is accurate. I've heard it many times but never heard any authoritative source for the claim.

Scott said...

Travis, the actual key words are "free standing". Free standing staircases are not supported by the floors they meet. These can have a central support or not. If you think about it, having a spiral without a central support or supports around the perimeter is quite a feat. It means that each stair is supported purely by the stair below. This is why they are so rare.

I showed five staircases without central supports, but the Nauvoo Temple staircases are not free standing. The Copenhagen Denmark Temple staircase probably isn't as well and is outside the U.S. The San Diego staircase appears to be supported at each floor, so it is also not free standing. This leaves the two Manti Temple staircases (I showed 3 pictures of them). You'll also notice that the Logan Temple Staircase is free standing from the Assembly Hall level up, but has a central support.

Your point about significant size is valid as there are small examples of free standing spiral staircases that lack central supports.

As for the number, I remember being told eight by a temple worker (and they read that from a card so it isn't just their memory) but I may have the number off.

Travis Brinton said...

It's hard to imagine that staircases with central supports (e.g., Logan Temple) could be considered self-supporting.

In addition to the Octagon House, a little websurfing also led me to the Loretto Chapel in Santa Fe, New Mexico, which has a self-supporting wooden staircase. And it looks like there are many more, including many modern designs. If you don't specify that the staircase be made of wood, then there are tons. Obviously it's not too hard to do with steel. There's such a staircase in the JFSB at BYU, and there used to be one outside the Crabtree, although in both cases I can't tell exactly where the weight is distributed.

So I suspect that how unique the Manti Temple staircases are depends on exactly how specific our criteria are. Does it have to be wood? How much weight may rest on the exterior walls? How tall does it have to be? And so on. It sounds to me like we need some more concrete information to be sure.

One other note: I believe that there is only one spiral staircase in the rebuilt Nauvoo Temple (not counting the tower). It's the one in the northwest corner.

Scott said...

I think you are right about the Nauvoo Temple only having one spiral staircase now, although the original one had more.

The Manti Temple staircases are rare and unique and an engineering marvel; however, what exact criteria makes them unusual is unknown to me other than that they are free standing open spirals without central supports.

Jon said...

Having walked on the San Diego Temple's staircase, I noticed that if there is considerable traffic on it, the entire staircase will start to wobble. I'm sure it's secure, but it's not a little scary.

Also, I believe there is symbolism to be found in a spiral staircase. It combines the ideas of our eternal experience being an eternal round and an upwards progression at the same time.

Travis Brinton said...

Not only is there symbolism in having spiral staircases in temples, but there is scriptural precedent: Solomon's Temple contained a spiral staircase. (See 1 Kings 6:8.)

I'm no engineer, but I would suspect that the San Diego Temple staircase's wobbliness actually indicates that it's more secure than it would be otherwise. In earthquakes zones, structures are often built to be flexible so that they can roll with the punches of a tremblor. Rigid structures would just collapse where flexible ones will be fine.

That staircase is amazing, btw. I walked around it in disbelief, trying to figure out what holds it up.

Scott said...

As an engineer I'll tell you that the staircase wobbling just means that they didn't look at vibration or used a minimum code deflection criteria. While we do design buildings to be ductile and also to be flexible, a wobbly staircase is not an example of this. Also, rigid buildings do fine in earthquakes, you just have to design for higher forces so making a building flexible and ductile(ex. using moment frames instead of masonry shear walls) is one strategy to get a lower seismic response.

Anonymous said...

St George spiral staircase photo:

Scott said...

That is a photo of the staircase in the St. George Tabernacle, not the temple.

dollatstorediva said...

How does the staircase from the Nathaniel Russell house in Charleston SC compare to these staircases? It's listed on the website as an elliptical spiral staircase and the tour guide said there were only 20 in the world like it.

Scott said...

It looks really nice. It is probably on par, although I don't know much about it other than a quick Google search. The elliptical shape makes it extra nice. I don't know how the actual craftsmanship compares.

Anonymous said...

All four of the Logan Temple's spiral staircases are indeed still there. They remain some of the few unspoiled, meaning original, areas of the Temple. My favorite original aspect of the Logan Temple are the staircases going form the fourth floor foyers to the assembly room, not spiral but still impressive. The stairways in the two south towers go from the first floor to the fourth floor, which houses the assembly hall. The two north staircases run from the first floor to the sixth floor. Floors five and six are only in the towers. I heard that those floors were used as dormitories in the early days, but I can't back that up. Now, in both the east and west fifth floor tower rooms are unused sealing rooms. I guess they can't use them due to egress issues. The sixth floors are unused and empty, but do provide access to the towers. The east sixth floor provides access to the attic. Back to the stairs, all four spiral stairs from the first to the fourth floor are supported by both the wall and center column. The north stairs from the fourth to the sixth floors are only supported by the center column. The pictures in the post show this fairly well. I doubt that any workers can show these areas, access from the first floor to all four stairs is to be had through the officiator locker rooms. The second floor only has access to the southwest stairs, but the access is in an officiator only area. The third floor also has access to the southwest stair, but it is also in an officiator area, however there is a small room in the hall for brides, so some of the bride may have caught a glimpse of the stairs. The third floor also has access to the southeast stairs down a few stairs from sealing room four, but the door is always shut and only to be open and used only for emergency egress. The fourth floor obviously has access to all of the stairs, but access to the fourth floor is very limited. Only a few employees and the temple presidency have keys to access the area.

Scott said...

Thanks for the information on the Logan Temple.

Lauren jonczak said...

Great pictures!I have always had a thing for spiral staircases. These are so beautiful. I really like the San Diego California Temple spiral staircase. Thanks for sharing.

James Baldwin said...

I'm a professional stair builder and I worked on the San Diego Stair. The word "wobble" is not quite accurate but there is a noticeable bounce or spring to the stair.

This is nothing to worry about since "spring or bounce" is inherent in all completely free-standing curved stairs (which after all are fashioned like the coils of a spring.

There is in fact a spot on this stair where a single person (jumping up and down) can elicit a spring-back of several inches. Still nothing to worry about...

The Mormon church spent quite a lot of money to engineer a completely free-standing structure. This heavy steel stair could probably support the weight of off-road vehicles!

Candi said...

Could you please tell me if it is possible to purchase prints of the Manti Temple staircase pictures?

Scott said...

I don't know who you'd get them from. I'm sure the church has the originals. They are published in a book on the Manti Temple done at its centennial.

Will said...

Hi Scott,

The original Nauvoo temple had two spiral staircases (not including a third in the bell tower) that were in a similar configuration to that of the Manti Temple's spiral staircases. However, only the northwest staircase was ever finished and used by patrons. Some sources have suggested that a pulley system was in the unfinished southwest staircase to haul water from a well in the basement to the attic for use in the initatory (see Covlin's "Nauvoo Temple: Story of Faith"). The reconstructed Nauvoo Temple has four staircases at each corner of the building. The one most used is the spiral one in the northwest corner (the remainder are simple square stairwells), the same as was used by the original saints.

Sarah Collins said...

Gorgeous. I've been dying to put a spiral staircase into my home. I actually just bought a spiral staircase kit and plan on putting one in my backyard area from my deck to my patio. Wish me luck!

Julie said...

Thank you for this extremely interesting post. I am keeping a blog of the construction of the Provo City Center Temple and was mystified by some columns with spiral tags which appeared on the lot this week. After reading this post, I am now certain this material is for the spiral staircases which will be in each tower.

Brad Greenwood said...

There were NO Shakers involved in the rebuilding of the Nauvoo temple. The last Shaker died long before the construction.

Neither were there Shakers involved in the original construction.

Steve Lowther said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Steve Lowther said...

Brad Greenwood is mostly right, but there were still a few elderly Shakers at the time of Nauvoo Temple reconstruction. However, there has not been an active Shaker community engaged in their famed woodworking for quite some time.

The Church in Nauvoo has had the help of the Amish community, especially in the trades such as carriage and wheel wrighting. I can find no evidence they helped with the temple.

Josh and Loralyn said...

I work for Smith Design and Manufacturing which is a stair building company based out of the Dallas Texas area and they built the spiral stair in both the Nauvoo Illinois Temple and the spiral stair in the San Diego California Temple. They are hardworking craftsmen who have been cleared to work in the LDS temples because of their quality standards.

The Nauvoo Temple spiral stair is also a fire exit and this is why the stair is built of steel and concrete covered with wood. The stringers were built on site and the handrails were milled in-house using a standard shaper and a five-axis CNC. It was built as closely to the original while complying with modern standards and regulations. There are a few Mormons working here, but I don't think we have any Shakers on staff. If you want to see any additional pictures or images of other really cool stairs try these websites.

Tom Simpson said...

The Nauvoo Temple spiral staircase is in the SW corner, not the NW. I use those stairs every day.

Patricia and Dave Record said...

Herman August Thorup, my great great grandfather contributed to the building of winding stairs and much more in building the kingdom. Please read the following. Sincerely, Patricia L. Record

President Brigham Young instructed the departing missionaries that they were to pray to be led to those who were the honest in heart, spiritually prepared as well as those who had the badly needed skills to build not only a new frontier, but especially those who could build a Temple worthy of the Lord.

When the missionaries knocked on [the] door of Herman August Thorup in Copenhagen, Denmark they found a man who fulfilled both criteria. He was one of a very few that had been trained for over four years in Cabinet making including French polishing. After this rigorous training he worked and received further training in Germany receiving the title of "Master Cabinet Maker" a level of skill which very few in the world held.

Among his many contributions to the Temple and other facilities are the Temple doors. He also carved the staircase in the Assembly Hall on Temple Square, the beautiful parquet floors made of three and four inch pieces of wood, a pulpit in the Provo Tabernacle, and the benches in the Salt Lake City First Ward. (Since removed and some were relocated in what is now "TrolleySquare")

(From "Dedicated Faith, Herman F.F. Thorup, His Journals" (compiled by Renee Blackburn Jacks, 2002)