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Floors, Stairs, Lifts and Wayfinding

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This month, mini-case studies shed light on wayfinding, floor, staircase and lift design and specification and we look at ways of safeguarding against slippery floor surfaces and new lift control and porcelain plank products


Wayfinding, one of the more charming neologisms to enter architectural discourse in recent years, is a topic which sits comfortably with floors, stairs and lifts and, as it’s a newcomer, we’ll discuss it first. Although many architects regard signage as an admission that a building has failed to communicate by architectural means, just as they might argue that a good plan needs little annotation, users sometimes need hints which operate at a more detailed level while many architects now collaborate with communication designers, such as Thomas Matthews.

This consultancy’s expertise is to communicate architecture by using scale, space and surface. ‘We often deliver ambitious communications projects that go beyond the principles of graphic design and could, for example, involve hanging 5,000 polystyrene cups to create a statement,’ says founder Sophie Thomas. ‘We prefer to work at the very beginnings of a project where disciplines are able to coalesce and architectural communications are easier to integrate,’ says Alexie Sommer, communications director. ‘The stuck-on-at-the end approach to identity and wayfinding is always disappointing.’

Thomas Matthews’ most recent projects have involved working with landscape architect Andrew Grant on Gardens by the Bay in Singapore (AJ 29.11.12), from inception to completion and, also with Wilkinson Eyre Architects, on the University of Exeter’s Forum project. ‘These two latest projects have really played to our strengths because they are truly multidisciplinary,’ says Thomas. ‘They are not just wayfinding, or merchandising. They are about everything.’

Another design firm working in similar territory is PearsonLloyd. ‘Through a layering of space, place and infrastructure, great cities grow over time,’ says director Tom Lloyd.

New cities often struggle to deliver similar qualities in a single planned event

‘New cities so often struggle to deliver similar qualities in a single planned event.’ For Lloyd, the workplace is a similar organism, which is often configured in a manner that forces occupants to establish their own physical and social communities largely unsupported by architecture, layout and furniture. ‘Over the
last decade a movement has emerged that espouses the concept of the legible city, seeking to unlock our post-industrial urban spaces as open, easy and connectedcommunities through high-quality mapping and information resources that enhance the subconscious wayfinding already present in neighbourhoods, districts and the unplanned pathways between them.’ He cites the sociologist Ray Oldenburg’s idea of the Third Space, which identifies the informal meeting places of the city - coffee shops, barber shops and squares - as anchors of community life, forming bridges between the home (the first place) and workplace (the second place). ‘In parallel, the concept of a workplace as the same open and connected community is shaping an alternative future, very different to the way offices have been planned and occupied for more than a century.’ This movement seeks to understand and reflect the needs of individuals and groups within organisations. ‘In cities, we are drawn to spaces that suit our physical and social mood and the formal or informal, personal or communal, space we choose reflects those needs.’

Lloyd sees office layouts beginning to reflect these patterns more closely, building on ideas of neighbourhood and freedom to choose where and how to work, and facilitating natural exchanges among different groups. ‘In both places, a landscape of varying functions and densities fosters a natural energy that is both more human and more enjoyable.’

Gardens by the Bay

Source: Craig Sheppard

Communications designer Thomas Matthews worked with landscape designer Andrew Grant and Wilkinson Eyre on the Gardens by the Bay project in Singapore

At Gardens by the Bay, which opened in June, Thomas Matthews addressed the challenge of taking one shape, or singular graphic expression, to communicate the wonder of the 101ha garden and the diversity of the natural environment by looking to Singaporean culture, the paintings of Henri Rousseau and the Eastern craft of paper cutting to create an intricate diverse pattern that was cropped, abstracted and tessellated. The pattern has been used extensively throughout the gardens, on merchandising and online: laser cut into back-lit signage and used as filigree patterns in shelters. Thomas Matthews created a typeface with two versions: a highly legible geometric rounded sans serif and an expressive alternative version with swashes emanating from selected letter forms. The wayfinding strategy, built on research into Singapore’s multinational culture, uses the deep purple of the Mangosteen fruit as the principal unifying colour for the themed gardens and landscaping, with rich claret for the Supertrees and bright red for the Dragonfly Bridge.

University of Exeter

Source: Hufton + Crow

Thomas Matthews worked with Wilkinson Eyre on the University of Exeter Forum project

At the University of Exeter, Thomas Matthews found inspiration in the gridshell roof, working with research engineer Gennaro Senatore of Expedition Engineering to re-interpret photographs of flora from the University’s arboretum. These images were programmed through a bespoke algorithm using the Delaunay triangulation method, mimicking nature through triangular form and shadow play to replicate the organic forms of the gridshell. This pattern helped to generate a bespoke display font: Forum inline and outline, with a clear symmetry and detailed triangular lines.

The idea of triangular shadow play was also used to identify facilities, using colours that complemented those of the architecture - a vivid blue-green-purple spectrum grounded by a deep black copper. ‘The design concept centred around capturing the play of light and shadow as it entered the building through thegridshell roof structure,’ says Thomas.

‘Our approach to the signage was to ensure simple and stylish clarity,’ explains Sommer. ‘The trick was to create a functional, legible system that integrated with the Forum’s high-quality design finishes and elegant spaces as well as allowing for a future-proofed flexible set of signs.’


The specification of safe floor surfaces may seem complex, but it doesn’t have to be mysterious. Flooring manufacturer Dorset Woolliscroft reminds specifiers that portable scientific test instruments for accurately assessing slipperiness are commercially available. The HSE has published comprehensive guidance on the prevention of slips and trips. The current preference is for use of the pendulum or ramp assessment methods for pedestrian floor surfaces and flooring materials, supplemented by additional information on the measurement of surface roughness where applicable.

A software package to allow an operator to assess the slip potential of pedestrian walkway surfaces can be downloaded from the HSE website. It’s advisable to keep up-to-date with research into reproducible and representative tests to measure flooring materials’ slip resistance.

Dorset Woolliscroft refers tile specifiers seeking to closely match the requirements of installations to the five main slip-resistant measurements:

  1. Pendulum Test BS7976-2 Rubber Slider, Pendulum Test BS7976 Part 2, Transport Research Laboratory
  2. Shoe Shod Ramp Test DIN 51130
  3. Surface Roughness Measurement
  4. Barefoot Ramp Test DIN 51097
  5. Displacement Volume Value


Warhol-esque Uonuon porcelain planks by Strata

For architects seeking inspiration, the Uonuon porcelain plank collection marketed by Strata Tiles, which takes its name from an Italian song, draws on the work of Andy Warhol and his use of screening techniques and impaired printing of colours. The collection is available in 15 colours with screen-printed wood effects and is suitable for commercial and residential surfaces.

Many designers prefer the freedom of a pick-and-mix approach rather than working within a particular manufacturer’s range, although this can accelerate design, specification and procurement. In a new refurbishment for LeasePlan UK in Berkshire, Crisp Design specified Forbo textile and resilient products as part of a modular flooring strategy. ‘It was unusual for me to specify from one supplier as there are so many manufacturers and products to choose from,’ says designer Mark Crick. ‘However, Forbo’s diverse range of products and the scope for integration and modular design was attractive.’ Crisp Design specified Tessera and Westbond carpet tiles, Allura vinyl tiles and Eternal stone vinyl tiles, using a dark, textured, subtly patterned base colour of charcoal and grey to allow the client’s corporate shade of orange to stand out.


Crisp Design specified a spectrum of Forbo flooring products for its LeasePlan refurbishment

Multi-height loops give the Tessera Alignment floor covering a bold directional theme, which is tempered by intersecting random blocks of rich cut pile. Crick chose the dark nucleus colourway for open plan areas, injected with a daring tangerine accent shade, Sirius, from the Alignment highlight collection, which complemented the orange furniture. Westbond, a fusion-bonded tile in which the yarn is fixed directly on to the backing material for a richer, more dense texture, was chosen for the reception and executive meeting rooms. A bespoke black pepper base was created with slices of orange ginger. Tessera Helix carpet tiles, with an understated linear design, were specified for the stairwell. Bright patterned vinyl tiles provide vivacity and focal points. Allura abstract wood designs, available with metal highlights, were specified for breakout and kitchen areas, and Eternal stone vinyl tiles were installed in washroom areas for their durability, slip resistance and natural finish.


Although some regard staircases as operational, low-cost elements that should be concealed, most architects see them as an opportunity, often their best chance to put their mark on a building’s design. In Artillery Architecture & Interior Design’s office refurbishment for Catlin Group at 20 Gracechurch Street in London, the staircase in the reception area is conceived as a sculptural element that stimulates communication between Catlin’s underwriting and claims departments.

Durability was a high priority and the 3.6m diameter double helix staircase from EeStairs, with a total rise of 5m and 1.75m wide treads, has a clear low-iron curved glass balustrade, brushed stainless steel handrails and a white-painted GRG underside. The 3.8m-diameter first-floor glass balustrade and smokescreen is by OAG.

Delta Balustrades' Central Teaching Labs project

Delta Balustrades’ Central Teaching Labs project

BIM may not come into force until 2016, but change is underway in the building products industry. Forward thinking manufacturers are starting to produce models as Revit-ready images. This enables architects to create 3D models using the exact products they want to see in the final construction. Models allow full manipulation and provide detailed product information, beneficial during construction and further down as an aid to maintenance regimes. ‘This is the way the building products industry as a whole is moving, and it is a smarter and more effective way for architects to work,’ says David Light of CASE Design, Inc, one of the founding members of the London Revit User Group. One company to embrace the change is Delta Balustrades, among the first in the industry to make its full product range available as Revit images.


Although AJ Specification usually plays down certain types of promotional language, lift manufacturer KONE warrants quotation: ‘A good elevator user experience is more than just a ride - it’s an emotional experience that combines aesthetics, accessibility, comfort, safety, reliability and eco-efficiency.’ The new collection by KONE, pronounced like the female name in its native Finland but generally like the New York island in Britain, features more than 50 car interiors and 100 different materials and accessories that can be combined freely and used in all lifts, with contemporary colours, materials, finishings and new patterns. The collection comprises six global design themes developed through trend research: modern simplicity, vintage, industrial, classic, nouveau glamour and luxury. You could have some fun mapping these against world regions.

KONE Modern Simplicity

KONE’s Modern Simplicity new lift car interior

KONE has been granted world-class red dot 2012 design awards for both the KSS 280 and the KSS 800 signalisation series. The KSS 800 aims to introduce easy-to-use destination control to the wider public and thus improve traffic efficiency. Both series focus on accessibility and usability in, for example, landing fixtures with rounded corners, clear forms and large key buttons.

The red dot jury praised KONE’s winning products for harmonious design, innovative technical processes that provide customising options, intelligent operating concept, excellent technical performance and strong focus on accessibility.

John McAslan + Partners’ reworking of London’s King’s Cross Station presented unique access design challenges and lift manufacturer Stannah rose to the occasion, so to speak, providing 24 new and refurbished lifts.

Kings Cross lifts

Lifts serving platforms and bridges at John McAslan’s reworking of London’s King’s Cross Station

The train shed has five scenic, two-stop, eight-person mobility-impaired passenger lifts connecting the bridge to each of the platforms below. The one-way downward travel of these lifts is part of the overall design of people flow around the station, which aims at an open, relaxed feel for a very busy environment. At platform level, four OBS (on-board services) 24-person goods and passenger lifts provide direct access to and from service tunnels to individual trains.

These facilitate quick, efficient delivery of OBS directly to individual trains and clearing of refuse at the end of train journeys. The lifts are finished to Network Rail’s specification, with ‘bumpers’ low on solid walls. All work to install the lifts in the train shed had to be completed during service blockades as these platforms were operational throughout most of the construction period.

Machine rooms are housed in pits beneath the platforms, 1,400mm deep, covered by heavy steel shutters set into platform walkways. The service tunnels are home to many additional lifts that assist in the movement of goods to and from all areas of the station, and the Western Range Building has seven additional passenger lifts.

The station’s highlight, the new Western Concourse, has two 1,200kg 16-person lifts, finished in brushed stainless steel with York stone floors and special lighting for public access to and from the mezzanine food court, one travelling three stops to London Underground, specified by Arup. In addition, it has two 3,100kg 40-person goods and passenger lifts for service personnel, which shift goods between four floors and were installed in existing shafts that were extended to travel further. These also provide back-up for OBS, and one serves the new concourse level pub.

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