Construction News

Mon August 02 2021

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Oculus staircase takes shape in Cardiff

1 Jul An unusual staircase has been installed in a new building on Cardiff University’s Innovation Campus.

Design by Hawkin Brown, construction by Bouygues UK and Taunton Fabrications
Design by Hawkin Brown, construction by Bouygues UK and Taunton Fabrications

Describes as the UK’s first ever 'oculus' staircase, the effect took some creative engineering to deliver.

Cardiff Innovation Campus’ £300m Sbarc|Spark building was designed by architect Hawkins Brown and is being built by Bouygues UK.

Bouygues worked with Taunton Fabrications to deliver Hawkins Brown’s vision for the sculptural, open staircase, which starts as ‘a social stair’ at ground level and forms breakout zones to each level arrived at, travelling through a slanting void.

Mike Baynham, operations director for Bouygues UK in Wales, said: “It’s amazing to have witnessed this staircase taking shape over the past few months. The expertise of Taunton Fabrications and the amazing vision of Hawkins Brown have all come together to create a spectacle in this truly one-of-a-kind building.”

He explained: “The way the staircase was constructed is also very unique as the stairs weren’t installed directly above each other, as traditionally happens, but are offset at each floor level. Several methods of installation have been reviewed over months to come up with the best way to install the stairs safely and practically.

“Our great team here at Bouygues UK came up with a solution to install each stair after each floor slab was built and then construct the next floor above the stair with a cleaver configuration. These temporary works was designed by Taunton Fabrications and the RC frame contractor, 4D Structures. This was then repeated on every floor. It is a complex but exciting construction project and is amazing to see it come to fruition.”

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Hawkins Brown partner Julia Roberts said: “The oculus staircase was designed as a stimulating setting that fosters collaboration between researchers, practitioners and policy-makers. To develop this design, we worked with our computational design team and produced a script that allowed us to create a parametric model of the oculus void for best coordination with structures and M&E design teams. This also enabled us to create a game engine walkthrough which you were able to experience on a VR headset – it proved to be a powerful design development tool which actively involved the University and building users.

“This was the first time we utilised game engine technology on a project, and it’s very rewarding to see it taking shape on site.”

Damian Walford Davies, pro vice-chancellor for the college of arts, humanities & social sciences, added: “The oculus is the light-flooded heart of our building: a visible symbol of the connections and configurations between people and projects that this space beautifully enables, as much as a practical thoroughfare.”

The Innovation Campus is being built on the site of a disused rail yard. It comprises two buildings. Sbarc|Spark will be home to social science research, alongside a creative space for start-ups, spinouts and partnerships.

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