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sbarc | spark’s showpiece stairs revealed

30 June 2021

L-R: Professor Damian Walford Davies, Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Cardiff University; Professor Sally Power, Director, Wales Institute of Social and Economic Research and Data; Professor Chris Taylor, Academic Director, SPARK, and Sally O'Connor, Operations Director, SPARK.

A sculpted showpiece staircase that connects Cardiff University’s new sbarc | spark building has been installed on the city’s Innovation Campus.

The completion of the ‘Oculus’ is a ‘UK first’ and marks a pivotal moment in the construction of Cardiff Innovation Campus.

Architects Hawkins\Brown worked with Taunton Fabrications and Campus constructors Bouygues UK to design and install the feature, which starts at the ground floor as a ‘social stair’ and forms breakout zones to each level of sbarc | spark.

The Oculus – meaning ‘eye’ - is a sculptural, open staircase travelling through a slanting void. Its design represents an eye that allows light to flood into a space. It aims to drive engagement and collaboration between the varying departments and uses of the sbarc | spark building.

Professor Damian Walford Davies, Pro Vice-Chancellor for the College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences, said: “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 and comprises two buildings.

sbarc | spark – which is due to open this coming winter - will be home to the world’s first Social Science Research Park (SPARK), alongside CardiffInnovations@sbarc – Cardiff University’s creative space for start-ups, spinouts and partnerships.

Next door, the Translational Research Hub will be home to two world-leading scientific research establishments – the Institute for Compound Semiconductors and Cardiff Catalysis Institute.

Mike Baynham, Operations Director for Bouygues UK in Wales, and project lead on Cardiff Innovation Campus, 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.

“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.”

Mike explained: “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.”

Julia Roberts, Partner and Education & Research Sector Lead of Hawkins\Brown 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.”

More information about the Hawkins\Brown vision for the Oculus and sbarc | spark can be found here – together with a fly-through film of the building.

[Watch The Oculus Staircase Revealed]

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