081-23mr – Stairs
Special Awards: Innovation Winner 2011
Building Owner: Mr Henderson
Architect: Atmos Studio Ltd
Main Contractor / Builder: Red Oak Services
Joinery Company: CNC Services – PMP Limted
Wood Species: Panget Traviata Heringbone Parquet – Oak, Solid Oak eorktops, MDF – FSC approved
Stairs provide fleeting spaces, massaging the body through a brief spatial experience. The underside of the stair was to house the toilet, tapping in to the existing drainage position at the lowest point of the house. Traditionally also experienced as the low point of residential atmosphere, our design strove to elevate a windowless bog to an extraordinary experience, re-casting the toilet as a throne for surveying the labyrinth of surrounding detail, and from which to decipher at leisure the details and language of the design. Borrowing both from the vegetal ornament in the older house and the organic motifs of growth and movement of our own interventions, the stair was conceived as a branching structure growing out of the foundations towards the sky. The toilet harboured the seed of the genesis of its form – the secret of where this tree first branched from.
The design began with a plan arrangement of steps which fanned through a simple progressive array, inviting the visitor on as gradual and smooth a journey as the hallway above could accommodate, lifting them from a dark corner of the ground floor up into a higher space bathed with light from a giant skylight.
The subsequent move was to blend (in both plan and section) the sensual horizontal treads into a vertical wall to the West composed of a mirror mesh of lines – timber balustrade strands designed to appear as threads hanging from above. Their upper geometry echoed the cadence of the existing balustrade above them and then bunched and pinched at key nodal points to achieve a series of simple, diagrammatic functions: curving and bunching at one end to cover the exposed edge of the landing, compressing at the other tip to open up the stair to entry, and pulled back at the base to encourage open movement through, like a curtain pulled back to let the gaze through.
On the other eastern edge, the treads converged into a single pair of lines that seamlessly merged with the skirting detail flowing throughout the rest of the house. A glance back thus suggests the skirting bending to rise from the floor, bifurcating into each individual tread like a fern branching into leaves.
The staircase was manufactured entirely from timber, its chief structure achieved by laminating different thicknesses of MDF as either tread or riser or support wall, capping tips and verticals with finer threads of laminated oak. Everything was fabricated directly from 2D CAD information using digital cutting technology (or CNC-routing), carefully intersecting flat-pack 2D elements to create a complex 3D composition with the illusion of 3-dimensional curvature. A precise laser survey was crucial to minimise necessary tolerances and ensure that the millimetre-perfect design slotted perfectly into the planometric and sectional constraints of the existing fabric.
The stair was designed as a cohesive, easily-assembled kit of parts – an outsized 3D jigsaw constructed with an animated flipbook. An engraved base-plate enabled precise positioning of outer frame walls and the central spine wall, both bridged by elaborately carved beams that slotted in sequence into these flank walls. Routing constraints limited the use of chamfered cuts and thus meant substantial voids at the intersection between diagonal planar elements, necessitating the generation of additional filigree masking elements. In the main stair void, these acted as tendrils resolving the eccentric junctions between riser and wall, curling up to form the additional delicate enclosing balustrades required by Building Regs.
The geometry was generated from a basic sequence of angles and radii, matched in plan and section, and interstitial lines placed at intervals. The volumetrics sought to minimise mass whilst ensuring stability, laminating 3 staggered layers of MDF in section to form an ultra-thin profile in the dominant elevations, layers of engraving further splitting the mass into the appearance of 2 thin strands. The use of 2 engraving depths for each of the 3 layers of MDF enabled intricate functional carving of what would ultimately resolve into the appearance of a single sculptural stereotomic mass.