Founded in 1931 by Frank Yerbury, the Building Centre was created to celebrate the built environment. Highlighting innovation in architectural design, engineering and construction through the delivery of public events, exhibitions, and an extensive product library. The Building Centre has expanded in recent years to accommodate co-working spaces and a café, reinventing its vision to be a space that is inviting, informative and forward thinking in the promotion of the importance of the built environment in the modern age.
In 2015, Roz Barr Architects were appointed to re-imagine the Building Centre, part of this work included the designing of a new gallery for showcasing innovation in the Built Environment. The redesign of a new gallery in the building's central public space, expanded to include a new staircase, which during the conceptual phase, delivered a radical shift in the use of sustainable materials in commercial spaces – a design which upon completion became the world's first suspended ‘cork’ staircase.
The idea of the staircase was born out of a desire to use materials that symbolized sustainability while also being inventive and creative in such a way that the materials true diversity could be clearly seen. As a natural and durable material cork is economical and sustainable. A low energy material that can be reused, re-purposed and is importantly in the modern day ‘carbon neutral’ making it the perfect choice, for displaying how underutilized materials can be effectively integrated into design within the built environment.
Following extensive research into sourcing sustainable cork, Roz came across Amorim Cork Composites located in Portugal, a business unit of Corticeira Amorim that has reinvented how a natural and organic material such as cork, can be used in design and architecture. Manufacturing cork blocks Amorim’s sustainable vision, and commitment to reinvention, was the perfect match for a partnership that saw engineer Steve Webb of Webb Yates, come together to work on a design that would become a ‘self-supporting’ staircase.
Using traditional timber dowel plugging techniques combined with Barr’s intersecting tread design concept throughout the staircase, and with installation by Tin Tab, the result was nothing short of magnificent, and proved how a lesser-known material is not only possible to work with as a building material, but how in doing so we can push the boundaries of what the built environment can look like, and also create a more sustainable future.
Process in making
In the video below, Roz Barr, Steve Webb and João Pedro Azevedo talk more about the project. Images within the video link are credited to Thomas Adank