Where are Sydney’s Oldest Steel Stairs?

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Calling all architectural graduates, heritage architects and architectural historians! We’re on a mission to locate Sydney’s oldest steel or cast iron stairs. Is it the 119 year old QVB spiral – or is there another candidate hidden away from the public eye? And when we say steel stairs, we mean the whole sub-structure is steel not just the balustrades.

Opened to the public in 1898, the Queen Victoria Building is a very significant architectural landmark and boasts many significant building features. While possibly not the most noticeable, the cast iron staircase that leads to the access to the dome has caught our eye as possibly one of the city’s earliest examples of the use of steel or iron for the entire structure of a stair. It would seem that there were originally more spiral stairs in the QVB but they were removed at an earlier date. We haven’t been able to establish who made this spiral but it is probable that it was cast in Britain and shipped out, but we’d be glad to know if there’s any buffs out there with this information!

Why would you use steel for a staircase?

It’s heavy, cold and has been used for around 4,000 years – surely there’s something better out there in today’s world? Not necessarily! As one of the most important substances of the modern era, steel is ever-present in the modern world; it’s in the things we see and touch every day – and very often the stairs we climb as we walk from place to place.

The reason steel staircases are so popular is because steel is practical, versatile and incredibly strong. Steel has an incredible tensile strength and, unlike wood and other materials, it is non-combustible and will not rot. It requires little to no maintenance and can withstand just about every type of weather environment – from wind and fire to gale force winds.

For the environmentalists, steel is also one of the world’s most recycled materials – with a global recycling rate of over 60%.

Steel is even appealing for the economists – particularly when you consider it’s long term benefits, lack of maintenance costs, reliability and sturdiness. The manufacturing of steel isn’t cost intensive – and building with steel takes considerably less time than building with other materials, saving you both labour and material costs.

Steel staircase design is now also more versatile than ever. For example look at Macquarie Bank’s staircase in their latest Sydney office fitout where perforated sheetmetal was pressed to form a continuous sculptural style balustrade to these stairs over 8 floors. For an aesthetically pleasing result, especially in commercial buildings and office fitouts, steel remains the material of choice for many contemporary and forward-thinking designers and architects around the globe.

Is the oldest Sydney steel or iron cast staircase the QVB spiral – or is there another candidate hidden away? Let us know!

Active Metal is a leader in staircase design and production. We’re passionate about steel stairs. 


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