December 23, 2014

Eva Jiricna’s UHPC Stairs for London’s Somerset House

Appearances can be deceptive, as we all know. But with the seemingly effortless insertion of an elegant spiral staircase into London’s landmarked Somerset House, Somerset House Trust—needed to replace an outdated one from the 1960’s without inter­fering with the architecture of Sir William Chambers. So Jiricna turned to cutting-edge UHPC, or ultra high performance concrete.

For all the carefree delicacy of the molded UHPC treads, swirling around an airy filigree steel tube, they could hardly have been more complicated to deliver. UHPC, which is three times stronger than standard concrete, is such a new material that Jiricna describes the construction process as a live experiment. “Oh my god, the challenge was high,” she says, laughing. “We had to work out all the calculations and tolerances from scratch.”

The firm now known as Eva Jiricna Architects has never shied away from the awkward, however. “I can’t say no,” she laments. “I’m just yes, yes, yes.” She’s most renowned for her glittering staircases, often in glass. Though the Somerset House stair took almost two years to complete, who cares about time when the end result is such a pure delight?

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