Keep on Climbing

Thursday 08 Aug 2013

Endless Stair climbs into production phase as project location is moved to Tate Modern, Bankside

The Endless Stair, landmark project for this September's London Design Festival, will now be sited on the lawn in front of the world-renowned Tate Modern.

"Endless Stair is a temporary sculpture designed to be endlessly reconfigured. After initially considering a site at St Paul's Cathedral, the London Design Festival team has decided the best location for the Stair's debut is outside the Tate Modern, Bankside. The programme of modern art and architecture, combined with the Thames panorama of London, provides a context to which dRMM's [Dutch graphic artist M.C.] Escher-inspired installation can make a distinctive contribution," said Professor Alex de Rijke, director of de Rijke Marsh Morgan Architects (dRMM), the architects leading the design for the structure.

The construction of the Endless Stair, which will be the first ever such structure to use American tulipwood cross?laminated timber (CLT), is now progressing in Italy and Switzerland. The project, which was conceived in January 2013, is pushing the boundaries of hardwood in construction.

Starting from a fantasy Escher-inspired drawing utilising CLT for the first time, dRMM and professional services firm Arup have worked with specialist teams in Italy and Switzerland to research and test the strength of the material and develop the design to allow public access to the structure at this exciting cultural destination.

Expert teams at dRMM and Arup have met the challenges of bringing this intricate design to fruition and fabrication is now underway. It is the second hardwood structure that the American Hardwood Export Council has commissioned for the London Design Festival in collaboration with Arup following 2011's Timber Wave, designed by AL_A.

"The most fascinating aspect about this project is that we are going beyond typical analysis and code justification methods. We are constantly experimenting, analysing and testing. This is such a great opportunity to apply pure engineering principles to this unique artistic installation, using a material that we firmly believe should be used in more mainstream buildings in the near future," said Helen Groat, Senior Structural Engineer at Arup, who are also leading on the design of the Endless Stair.

This pioneering use of hardwood cross-laminated timber reduces the amount of material needed and the thickness of the elements.

Nüssli, an international company specialising in temporary, permanent and modular structures will construct the installation, which will have a total of 187 steps. The firm is currently conducting load tests and once all the panels arrive from Italy, where timber specialist Imola Legno is making them, it will build all the flights of stairs and other elements ready for travel to London at the start of September.

The striking installation will be ready to open to the public on 13 September and will remain in place until 10 October. With the highest step 7.7m above the ground, visitors will be at approximately the height of a three-storey building, providing an opportunity to experience both Tate Modern and the river from a unique setting.

The staircase will be closed at dusk each day and illuminated by night, evolving into an intriguing piece of art for passers-by to enjoy. The lighting scheme, designed by Seam Design, promotes various interactions within the structure by enhancing the juxtaposition and relationship between the surface/solid, solid/void and disorientation/configuration through the use of carefully placed and aimed lighting units. The lighting controls and sequencing will enhance particular features to express these contrasts creating an interactive play between the physical structure and the ephemeral nature of light.

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