Stairs for Smiles: A Staircase Study on the Texas Scottish Rite Hospital for Children

May 27, 2020

How a staircase created a functional necessity and a healing space for patients

Does every building need an intricate, fancy stair? Many would say “no”, but in the case of the Texas Scottish Rite Hospital for Children, a pediatric orthopedic hospital in Frisco, a very special staircase was needed to act as the centrepiece of their new building, which is the home to hundreds of children needing specialized health services. 

“Scottish Rite’s hospitals are bright and colourful, making them very appealing to kids,” says Lynn Opheim, the project manager for Basden Steel, the business that supplied and installed the structural steel for the project. 

When Basden Steel took on the project the building’s specs were almost complete, but details of the feature stair, which was to lead from the lobby to the mezzanine, had barely just begun. The right creative partner was still needed to bring the concept to life.

Feature Stair Fabrication From the Ground Up

Basden Steel trusted Feature Walters to solve the design and steel fabrication of the hospital’s focal piece.

Early in the project the architect only had basic drawings defining the parameters of the staircase – the diameter of the space and the height. “They had a good concept of what they wanted,” explains Kristof Janukiewicz, Senior BIM Modeler for Feature Walters. “But there was a lot to do. We had many meetings, and discussions with the structural engineer to figure things out.” 

Spiral stairs often have a post that the stairs spiral up, but the Hospital wanted something special. “No columns were allowed,” says Opheim. “The stairs could only be connected at the base and the top to the structural steel, which was then connected into concrete.”

“It was up to us to figure out how to make the spiral stair happen without regular supports,” adds Janukiewicz. “For a lot of buildings, a feature stair is something that catches your eye. They wanted to make this thing pop, so the stair also needed to rotate 720 degrees to reach the mezzanine.”

Structural Steel Design of the Times

Although there were many challenges with this project, the biggest came right at the beginning. “How were we going to fabricate this?” Janukiewicz recalls asking himself. 

The answer involved months of planning and digital modelling. “A lot of problems are that trades don’t communicate with each other as much as they should,” says Janukiewicz. “BIM modelling is a fairly new process that uses 3d models shared between different trades on a project. This often saves time and results in fewer revisions. For the hospital project, detailed information was shared with our in-house fabrication crew, glass tread providers, and the trades that cladded the steel.”

Feature Walters knew that logistics and erection were also going to be challenges, so complex jigs were designed and fabricated to fit together each of the six stair sections in Feature Walters’ own facility. Splitting the gigantic staircase into pieces also allowed for a manageable lift load, and ensured that the small crane available at the construction site would be able to easily erect it. 

An added benefit of the jigs was that they really helped Basden Steel in the installation, especially considering the heaviest piece was 3,500 lbs., with the whole steel structure weighing a whopping 12 metric tons.

Basden Steel worked with Feature Walters throughout the whole process: design, fabrication, transportation and erection planning. Everyone, including the client, were anxiously awaiting the delivery of the lobby’s crown jewel, scheduled to be raised in a one-week period. “When installation day arrived, we were all sweating,” says Opheim. “This was not something that we do every day. And even with a lot of people watching, making sure it goes well, we got it up in no time at all – two days.” Opheim credits the Feature Walters’ erection planning and jigs for the time savings. 

Elevating the Lobby Staircase Experience

Standing in the lobby and looking at the completed staircase, it is an awe-inspiring sight. But it’s not until you approach the staircase that the brilliantly coloured stair treads reveal themselves. Not only is it a ‘wow factor’ for grown adults, but most importantly it brings healing, health and happiness to children.

“Feature Walters did an incredible job,” says Opheim. “This was our first project with Feature Walters, and I’ve recommended them to others. People can easily get over their heads, but their communication and expertise was always there.”

Learn more about Feature Walters and its ‘anything is possible’ mentality at, or contact General Manager Aaron Bean to discuss your next project.

The Feature Walters Design Guide


Our Feature Walters team has created this guide as a resource to help educate and inspire you with the many styles, materials and finishes available for architects seeking leading-edge architectural options for feature staircases.

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