‘Stairs are sculpture’s gift to architecture,’ muses director of dRMM Professor Alex de Rijke, a sentiment that inspired the London-based firm in its ambitious endeavor for the London Design Festival. Freshly unveiled as this year’s landmark project, the ‘Endless Stair’ installation will take pride of place in front of the Tate Modern until October.
The playful Escher-esque structure consists of interlocking flights of wooden stairs that can be infinitely reconfigured. The groundbreaking installation, created in collaboration with the American Hardwood Export Council and Arup, also pushes the limits of hardwood in construction, with this being the first project of its kind to use American tulipwood cross-laminated timber (CLT).
From conception, the architects were adamant on ‘not following the rules’, and the undertaking certainly threw up its share of challenges. De Rijke explains, ‘Computers are awful at predicting the most crucial points: scale, weight, and gravity. It was impossible to imagine the 3D form of the stairs on a screen.’ It took three months of ceaseless model-making before the design was perfected, and production could begin.
The CLT panels were first produced in Italy, where timber specialist Imola Legno cut, planed and finger-jointed the lumber into sheets, before gluing them together. These were then transported to Switzerland to be assembled into separate flights by Nüssli, a global supplier of temporary structures for events, trade fairs and exhibitions, before they completed the final leg of the trip to London.
The highest step of the installation peaks at a dizzying 7.7 metres above ground (roughly three storeys), complete with a crystal clear Perspex railing for steel-nerved visitors daring enough to venture to its edge. By night, the structure will be illuminated in a special lighting scheme devised by Seam and Lumenpulse. At the end of its stay, the Endless Stair will be dismantled and individual flights transferred to new homes.