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This Mind-Boggling Staircase Feels Like It’s Alive

A stair to remember

At the 3DS Culinary Lab in Los Angeles, California, chefs are invited to wear their mad scientist hats and whip up newfangled foods–anything goes, as long as it’s edible and 3-D printed. To capture this spirit of inventiveness, Oyler Wu Collaborative designed the lab a mind-boggling staircase that looks like MC Escher mated with MakerBot.

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Kyle and Liz von Hasseln run the 3DS Culinary Lab and wanted something genuinely jaw-dropping in the space, but left it up to Oyler Wu to come up with the concept.

“Our initial idea was to create something that showcased 3-D printing at an architectural scale, but the cost would have been too much,” Jenny Wu, a partner at the collaborative, says. “If we couldn’t use 3-D printing at an architectural scale, what other digital fabrication techniques could we use? How could we push the idea of fabrication on the architectural side like the lab pushed the envelope for 3-D printing for food?”

The 3,000-square-foot Neoclassical bank, which dates to 1928, features a grand, double-height interior. Wu and her team stripped down all of the flourishes leaving only the concrete vault, masonry walls, and exposed steel roof trusses. Then, they inserted a two-story, glass-walled demonstration kitchen, a showroom, and office space.

But the real showstopper is the central staircase. Interlocking linear and machine-curved steel elements compose the banister’s core structure. As it rises up the steps and onto a mezzanine, the railing twists and turns almost like a double helix. CNC-milled sheets of wood are interspersed within the metal. As you walk past them, they create an optical illusion, making a static element feel like it’s alive.

“None of these building technologies is super new, but it’s how you incorporate them,” Wu says. “We’re using technology and traditional ways of fabrication hand in hand. With digital models and fabrication, you think you hit a button, cut it, and you’re done. It’s not that simple. Real-life construction has some tolerances you have to deal with. After it was installed, we also added more wood sheets to create a finer filigree.”

Over the past decade, Oyler Wu has created conceptual designs that blur the divide between architecture and sculpture such as the Netscape installation at Sci-Arc and the Screenplay bench-wall hybrid. “We’ve started to push more and more in how experimental work can be incorporated into a building and become the building,” Wu says. “We’re always interested in work that is innovative but also long-lasting—it’s something you can look at many times and it always gives you something new.” Here’s hoping that “something new” at 3DS isn’t a tumble down the stairwell.

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About the author

Diana Budds is a New York–based writer covering design and the built environment.

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