Appropriate process: Stairs

Published 14th Dec 2015

WG+P are specifically interested in the ROLE of a designer FOR construction / fabrication processes, or as product designer would term: ‘DESIGN FOR MANUFACTURE’.

In this context, stairs are a particularly important structural building element, with a close experiential / tactile relationship with building users in achieving vertical circulation, and visually as an object within space. Stairs should be expressive of function and the process that makes them, and in our opinion decorated by that process and appropriate to context.

The design for fabrication of bespoke stair has become tread of work and research and development within the office. A rigorous design process has been established, whereby the constraints and opportunities of the stair construction are established and rough concept sketches are undertaken in conjunction with structural and fabrication colleagues (often Webb Yates Engineers and Pipsqueak Developments). At this initial stage the appropriate fabrication processes are identified, and as the design developed reduced scale physical models and 3D CAD models are constructed, before full scale prototypes of sections of the stair are tested.

Three recent stairs demonstrate our approach and the current outcomes of this research:

For the Ardilaun project, a stair design was evolved whereby identical laser cut / folded steel pieces form the handrail and balustrade, appearing to cantilever but with each interconnecting. The efficiency of repetition of identical components and the visual trick of connecting them provides a rhythm akin to that of the adjacent timber Victorian newel and balusters and a sense of lightness. The use of a natural material, waxed raw steel, is in keeping with the honest use of finishes elsewhere, and the cost was comparable with a proprietary timber stair.

The Montagu project was not constrained by economics, however the Local Planning Authority dictated that the stair could not touch the adjacent listed wall. The logarithmic curved form of the string provides the structural integrity, from which the treads are cantilevered. The string and treads were again fabricated from laser cut / folded steel, with a spray painted finish. The tapered form of the treads, which are under lit, and elegant lattice form of the balustrade take reference from the Georgian detailing and fenestration of the existing house. The treads were inlaid with oak, and sections of white leather clad the hand rail, albeit it was suggested that an anaconda skin would not require stitched joints!

The Frithville project stair was fabricated from Tintab plywood. Within a light stair well space with generous roof lights, the solid ply wood treads and balustrade / stringer provide a sculptural form, with the lamination of the plywood sheets expressed including a twisted interpretation of the newel post.

The research and development of stair design and fabrication continues with learnings including material efficiency and the appropriateness of different fabrication process in terms of logistics, context, acoustics, function, and form.

Perhaps the most satisfying outcome with this tread of work is the realisation that, in designing FOR fabrication processes, the built stairs are decorated by the fabrication process to elegant results. This seems an entirely appropriate modern progression from the process of the skilled wood turner and their lathe….

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