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Syncopated Steps: varying rhythms of circulation

Part 1 Project 2009
Thomas Gibson
University of Edinburgh Edinburgh UK
Syncopated steps; varying rhythms of circulation

Syncopation: (Music) A shifting of the normal accent, usually by stressing the normally unaccented breaks.

Phase: A state of synchronous operation.

A public steel stair, consisting of 156 steps and based upon the module of a standard brick, is placed on the site providing circulation around, and through, a vertical brick landscape. Together with the party wall, structural brick piers extend upwards through the site, thus supporting floor plates and allowing the creation of kitchen, bedroom and living spaces via ‘excavation’.

The ‘in-sync’ steel stair, a public route of passage , is inspired by the Minimalist music of Steve Reich and a proposal for the News Steps site in Edinburgh Old Town. The stair consists of six equal flights (orientated North – South) and one irregular flight (orientated East – West). A regular syncopation of three single steps broken by a double-step ‘landing’ is maintained throughout experience of the stair. In contrast to this a set of private, irregular stairs (a parallel echo to the public stair in plan) allow circulation between three residential duplex units and a basement workshop and small ground floor apartment. These private, ‘out-of-sync’ stairs are constructed from concrete and inspired by the work of performance artist Bruce Naumann and a proposal for a landscape stair climbing the slopes of Arthur's Seat.

Circulation to each property demands an interaction with the ‘spinal’ party wall and structural brick piers. The inhabitants are intended to experience a subtle syncopation and movement out of, and back into, phase as they circulate through combinations of private and public spaces. A focus upon the experience of circulation as extraordinary, and possible of generating multiple readings of a single space and everyday condition, is implemented via the manipulation of the Scottish Building Regulations regarding stair construction.

Thomas Gibson

How little is it possible to say in building?

Tom’s study of the Scottish Building Standards identifies a minimal content common to all building; regulation requires building to limit the threat it poses our health and safety, limits and threat which are indexed in every building through its compliance. Regulation 4.3.2 limits public and private stair geometry - every stair tread indexes the range of our safe and comfortable gait, in a given circumstance.

Two proposals for new public stairs in Edinburgh enjoy this communicative limit. 'New News Steps' enjoys the stair as a prescriptive device, creating a syncopated rhythmic effect for two stair-climbers. 'Steps for Arthur’s Seat' enjoys the stair as an inscriptive devise, taking a measure of Edinburgh’s volcanic landscape by writing a stair across it.

Tom’s proposal for three apartments and a chronometer shop in Edinburgh’s New Town employs both of these effects to create a rich domestic environment; the terraced kitchen bears a trace of the landscape beyond, while increasingly rhythmic stairs signal the movement from public to private. A brick is still a brick is still a brick - but it also provides the scale for a subtle choreography of hands and feet.

Mr Liam Ross
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