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Vertebrae Staircase by Andrew McConnell.

The Vertebrae Staircase is an impressive reconfiguration of a familiar form and its connections, resulting in a unique yet functional piece of vertical circulation. Inspired by the spine of a whale, it is not simply mimicry of organic form but an exploration in shaping structures.

Canadian architect Andrew McConnell wanted to create something different, modular and flexible. Surprisingly the stimulus of the Vertebrae Staircase concept came up by simplifying the shape of a whale’s vertebra into a single component.

Much of the design work went into refining that one single component that is the building block of the structure. Identical parts plug into each other creating a unified spine running from floor plate to floor plate. Each piece incorporates one step, one banister and part of the hand rail. These interlocking vertebrae when assembled together create a rigid and self-supporting structure.

“One benefit of this design is that its fabrication would require the production of essentially only one element repeated several times” says McConnell.

The outer surface of each element is composed of multiple layers of a durable composite fiber material in deep black color. Inside beneath the glossy black surface are hidden the key structural elements. The vertebrae are bond to each other using steel fittings and they lock together with steel pins. When all the connections are made, continuous structural spirals run through every vertebra at the hand rail.

When installing the Vertebrae Staircase, steel plates connected to the slightly modified “upper and lower end elements” are anchored to the floors at the base and the top of the staircase. Beyond this, there are no hidden supports. The Vertebrae Staircase is designed to act as one structural element, bearing the loads of its users and transferring these forces to the floor plates.

The pinned connections at the floor plates combined with the connections between vertebrae allow the Vertebrae Staircase to successfully resist twisting and rotational forces that result from the cantilevered spiral and cantilevered steps.

Andrew McConnell completed his Master of Architecture in Calgary, Canada, before starting work as an architect in Rotterdam, the Netherlands.

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