The University of Technology Sydney recently celebrated the landmark unveiling of their brand-new city campus. Centrally located within dense city blocks is a tiered glass building that rises upwards from its station. An icon in its own right, the building was designed by FJMT Architects to embody the University’s values and spirit of learning. Both on the inside and out, the building and its many architectural elements highlight the essence of active and collaborative learning—supporting the exchange of knowledge.
The Architectural Stair Experts
Among these elements are three feature stairs that have been carefully designed for both pragmatic and aesthetic purposes. When specialised expertise was required to bring the design of these three spiral steel staircases to life, both the project’s builder—Richard Crookes Construction—and its architects looked to our services. We had previously collaborated with both architect and builder on other former projects, and with 35 years of experience as an Australian commercial stair specialist , we are accomplished experts in the dedicated task of perfecting structural stair componentry and, in particular, achieving a desired design idea.
The Showcase Stairs: the Double Helix, Reading Rooms and Winter Gardens
The three architectural stairs showcased in the development are located in different sections of the building. The first, titled Double Helix, connects the main administrative and public spaces from Levels 4 to 7 of the building, while the latter two provides access for the multiple floors shared across the Reading Rooms and the Winter Gardens respectively. All three feature stairs share the same basic architectural make-up of perfectly seamless steel ribbons for both inner and outer balustrades and continuous curved streams of security-grade glass panelling.
The architects placed each of the three staircases on the perimeter of the building’s plan and layout. The intent behind this was to feature the movement among the various levels connected by each stair outwardly, creating what the architects call a “movement attraction” that would be visible at street level from Jones Street.
“The stairs create a dynamic visual point of interest for pedestrians and visitors, and while they share similar material attributes—each has specific design and structural requirements which sets them apart.”
Positioned beside the building’s south-western corner entrance from Jones Street is the Double Helix stair. Its design harks to fields of STEM and is, as UTS notes, a physical nod that highlights “breakthroughs in science and technology that have transformed our world”. Comprising of two separate sets of spiral stairs, the Double Helix appears to the eye as two flowing steel strips that connect four storeys (from the first administrative floor on Level 4) but flows continuously upwards to Level 9.
The double tendrils of spiral stairs is a result of a parameter set within the client’s brief. “UTS was keen on reducing the use of lifts in their buildings (which was a problem faced previously), and instead, encouraging foot traffic as means of traveling across various levels,” note the architects. The Double Helix is both a symbol and a solution to this—providing twice as much connectivity among the three levels.
Connecting the Reading Rooms and Winter Gardens
The two other features stairs connect the Reading Rooms areas on Levels 5 to 7, and the Winter Garden terraces on the upper levels. These are oriented to the north with the intention of creating pleasant light-filled spaces. The schematic design of these was architecturally integrated with their adjacent spaces and façades while maintaining their shared characteristics. The stairs connecting the reading floors is encased within a sleek cylindrical skylight and accentuated overhead by an aluminium soffit of burnished umber.
In contrast, the stairs linking the Winter Garden levels complements the semi-enclosed balconies. The steps are only partially enveloped by waist-high white plated steel, capped above by curved panels of laminated safety glass that captures the spectacular views out onto the cityscape.
Rising above Design Challenges
At first glance, the stairs appear remarkably simple and minimal in design, where in fact, each had their own unique set of challenges in bringing them to fruition. Functional requirements included the consideration of acoustic properties of each stair to minimise sound traffic without stylistic compromise. Our solution: applying a layer of Regupol acoustic underlay beneath the vinyl treading for soft under-footing .
“Each stair was developed with separate, distinct conditions in mind.”
“The stairs for the Reading Rooms were the most challenging of all three structurally,” reveal the architects. “UTS, as an institution, demands the highest level of quality—and it was through Active Metal’s level of precision and professionalism that we were able to achieve this.” The stairs here are structurally suspended from Level 7, enclosed in part by clear skylight panelling. With our in-house team of experts, we were able to conduct an investigative simulation of the stairs through CAD modelling and prototyping to iron out its material and structural limitations.
“Active Metal listened closely and completely understood our design objectives. They really took on the geometry and setup provided and advanced these by working out the physical constructs of the stairs. Every aspect was considered, from the reverberation of the steps to fabrication of the designs themselves.”
Design with a difference
The design and premise of these three feature stairs are unparalleled in the opportunities and challenges that it offered us as a team. We attained a great sense of achievement in the close, collaborative process of seeing the designs of these from paper to completed build.
“It was a real pleasure working with Active Metal,” the architects share. “They had a real willingness to work through challenges—taking on the difficult tasks we set them and excelling at it. They had a real ability to listen and asked all the right questions, and it made all the difference.”