Endless Stair at the Tate Modern

Endless Stair, the highlight of the London Design Festival 2013, is an eye-catching, 25ft-high installation of Escher-inspired stairs that allows visitors to discover glorious views of the Thames.
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Endless Stair will be outside the Tate Modern, SE1, until October 10, Monday – Sunday 9am-dusk (londondesignfestival.com)


Watch our short video on the Endless Stair

Endless Stair, the show-stopping 25ft-high installation at this year's London Design Festival, has taken its place outside the Tate Modern.

The installation, commissioned by the American Hardwood Export Council, is the brainchild of Alex de Rijke, founder of architect practice dRMM and Dean of Architecture at the Royal College of Art, after being tasked with the challenge of creating an installation built from hardwood that could be climbed. The final structure was a collaboration between dRMM, the American Hardwood Export Council and engineering firm Arup, and is made from 15 staircases, 187 stairs and 11.4 tonnes of wood.

Endless stair at Tate Modern
© Glenn Copus
The 25ft installation outside the Tate Modern will be open to the public until October 10

The project, inspired by the illusory artwork of M.C Escher, is an exciting experience for visitors who will be able to climb the tall structure and enjoy views of the Thames and St Paul’s Cathedral, across the river.

"I hope people get pleasure out of using it," said de Rijke. "I can see it being popular with children, but adults like to be scared too.

"This differs from what we normally do [at dRMM], in that this project perhaps sits on the ground between architecture and sculpture. A stair is sculpture's gift to architecture, but it is a useful sculpture, so in this project we take it out of the context of a building."

Endless stair at Tate Modern
© Glenn Copus
Endless Stair is made from American tulipwood

As well as being a fun installation, the project also has a serious technical purpose to showcase the potential of cross-laminated timber (CLT) panels made from American tulipwood, which dRMM Architects has pioneered the use of in projects such as Kingsdale School in south London and MK40 Tower in Milton Keynes.

"We're in a kind of industrial revolution at the moment. With CNC cutting, different types of glue and laminating, timber is much more sophisticated and stronger than it used to be," said de Rijke, who has described timber as the new concrete.

This type of hardwood is rarely used in construction and is often overlooked for cheap and readily available softwood. The Endless Stair aims to show that hardwood can be a more eco-friendly and strong material.

"I hope this sculpture inspires people to think about timber in a different way," explains de Rijke. "Endless Stair is a demonstration, not just of structure, proportion and detail - all the things that an architect has to consider - but it's also a demonstration of timber as an alternative to the default of concrete and steel."

Endless stair at Tate Modern
© Glenn Copus
The London Design Festival and American Hardwood Company are open to suggestions as to what could happen to the stairs after the festival

The stairs have been designed to be as sustainable as possible. The installation has had its full environmental profile worked out by consultants PE International to work out its lifecycle impact. Currently, the teams behind the installation are encouraging suggestions for what could happen to the stairs after the festival in a bid to find a socially beneficial use for them.

For more details, visit londondesignfestival.com.

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