'Endless Stair' may look like a path to nowhere, but this structure of Escher-like interlocking staircases is taking modular timber construction to new heights. Made from American tulipwood cross-laminated timber (CLT), the design was reconfigured to feature at Interni Magazine’s ‘Feeding New Ideas for the City’ exhibition at the Università degli Studi in Milan.
Designed by de Rijke Marsh Morgan Architects (dRMM), engineered by Arup, and built by Imola Legno and Nüssli, Endless Stair offers the potential for reconfiguration and adaptation to different contexts. The Ca’ Granda building, one of main venues in the FuoriSalone event, was the most recent setting for Scale Infinite – the latest iteration in the life of Endless Stair. Originally designed for and facilitated in partnership with the London Design Festival, Endless Stair became their Landmark Project for 2013 and was installed in front of one of the UK's most popular cultural destinations, Tate Modern, during last September's Festival. (Nope, didn't see it while I was at the festival. I cringe at what I miss as much as delight in what I've seen.)
Endless Stair became Scale Infinite (say that with an Italian accent) when reconfigured for the courtyard of the Ca’ Granda for the Milan design week last month
Maintaining the initial influence of Escher, Scale Infinite is a further play on perspective. Six interlocking flights of steps have been joined together to create a visually arresting form offering a compositional contrast to the classical uniformity of the surrounding Renaissance building. dRMM again give importance to the element of ‘play’ within the structure, harnessing the possibilities of user interactivity through the integration of different levels, joints, and possible pathways. This game of perspective also gave users the chance to experience the elegant courtyard of the Ca’ Granda from a unique viewpoint. Scale Infinite served as a deliberate contrast in material, scale and composition to its harmonious new backdrop in Milan. It is an aesthetic provocation, adding a new dimension to the context in which it stands.
Scale Infinite is not just an exciting wood sculpture, it is also part of a unique research project that is advancing the knowledge of timber construction and sustainability. This project is the first ever use of hardwood for cross-laminated timber (CLT), which is usually made from softwood. American tulipwood (Liriodendron tulipifera), whose name is derived from its distinctive tulip- shaped flowers, is an abundant and relatively inexpensive American hardwood. Crucially for this project, it is incredibly strong and stiff for its weight. Testing carried out in Italy last year during the production of the original Endless Stair structure, has shown that tulipwood is up to three times stronger in rolling shear than typical construction softwood, such as spruce.
Working from first principles, through testing, research and analysis to design this prototype, the project team envisage Endless Stair will bring many lasting benefits. The ultimate aspiration is that this cross-laminated hardwood is eventually brought into mainstream building construction. Time will tell!