Somerset House West Wing "The Miles Stair"

Somerset House West Wing "The Miles Stair"

Eva Jiricna Architects

Clifford Chapman
London, United Kingdom | View Map
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Private Houses
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Eva Jiricna Architects

Clifford Chapman
Peter Cook

Somerset House West Wing "The Miles Stair"

Eva Jiricna Architects as Architects

The West Wingdevelopment forms part of the Somerset House (listed Grade I) refurbishment master plan, completing the final opening up of the three sides of ‘The Edward J. SafraFountain Courts’ to the public. The Trust’s aim was to create a viable cultural & arts centre by renting out the upper floors & mid basement to creative industries (offices, meeting & conference facilities), whilst the ground level isdedicated to a diverse public cultural programme (exhibition, galleries, retail & events in the Fountain Court).

The lasttenant, HMRC, relocated leaving the interior in a dilapidated condition. The Trust took this opportunity to upgrade the entire interior, including improvements in circulation. In its original configuration Sir William Chambers introduced two splendid staircases at the pivotal west / east intersection: the Nelson & Salt staircases. The 1960’s remodelling of the north entrance contained only a crude institutional staircase (no lift), was difficult to use, not DDA compliant & certainly not worthy of the Trustees future vision. Strategically, the entrance was the only location where the division between new functions could occur without serious alteration to the historic building fabric.

Various studies were undertaken to establish the ideal location for the staircase &lift. It was concluded the most efficient arrangement was to extendthe existing staircase shaft into the smallest of non-lettable spaces, dictating the necessity for a compact circular stair with the lift positioned in the original staircase location,creatingopen & naturally lit lobbies at each level.

The interplay between the historic & contemporary architectural features is purposely used throughout. In the existing context of the open ground floor reception you are drawn to the new glazed lift, the spaceopening up to the sculptural drama of the staircase ‘floating’ in space with historic features silhouetted in the background.

The stair is seen as three distinct elements dissolving from the uniform lattice mast which commences with the lit reflective basement and finishing with thecrown at the top.The interplay of materials, ever changing fluid forms & light naturally draws your focus to the outer edges of the building, where the clear glass balustrade allows you to focus on the historic gallery of windows mouldings, floor lines & through to ‘The New Wing’ beyond.

The treads / landings are made from ‘Ductal FO’ reminiscent of the stone used in the building, a special ultra-high performance concrete 3x as strongas ordinary structural concrete, originally developed for use in harsh marine & industrial environments. To the team its aesthetic properties, placidity in casting & surface finish(porcelain in appearance) provided the perfect material for sculpting to a minimum, pushing its qualities to the limits.

It allows very slender complex 3D shapes free of reinforcement; although due to site restrictions a modular (104 treads rising 17.15m in height) assembly with a special jointing system was developed. A 4D computer programme was employed to analyse the structure (3 spatial dimensions plus time) to establish how the stair would change over its intended life.

All in all, the principles in Chambers famous ‘Nelson Staircase’ of canterlevered stone flights from the stairwell wall were turned inside out as it is largely self-supporting & does not touch the historic walls.This project was only made possible due to the history & setting of Somerset House, & a Client who believed the team would provide anoutstanding solution to their future vision.

Somerset House - The Miles Staircase

Clifford Chapman as Architects

Somerset House is Truly a place of inspiration, and when Clifford Chapman Staircases were asked to create what has to be one of Europe's finest staircases, the challenges were many and varied.

Clifford Chapman has been working with the distinguished architect, Eva Jiricna for over 30 years, carrying out projects across the globe from the USA to Hong Kong and all points in between.

The Clifford Chapman Motto “When someone tells you it can't be done, tell them to call me” was tested to the limit on this project. At over 26 metres in height and 4 metres in diameter this proved to be a logistical headache for company Operations Manager, David Sanger. It was planned like a military campaign, and a 3D model was created whereby every possibility was thought through. A timetable was produced so that the correct section was at the right place at the right time and would allow other parts to be inserted without obstruction.

A circular I beam was specially rolled to be placed around the atrium ceiling to allow for precise installation.

With access being so difficult, the centre column had to be made in 5 metre sections and lowered into the void. The column is fixed to the landing at 4 locations, with each landing weighing 1.25 tonnes.

The team of 4 worked closely with Italian stonemason Steffano Rossi and their excellent working relationship resulted in him developing a perfect Geordie/Italian accent.

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