CanopyStair, designed by Thor ter Kulve and Rob McIntyre, will be shown for the first time at this year’s Royal College of Art final show, which opened on 23rd June 2015. Their creation is a modular system of steps that can be attached without tools to form a spiral staircase around a tree trunk, allowing one to walk up into the canopy above. Lightweight and quick to assemble, the CanopyStair has been carefully designed not to damage or mark the tree in any way.
CanopyStair was conceived last year when the two designers spent time in the Azores. Though the house where they were staying was near the seashore, a tall stone wall that surrounded the house cut off any view of it. Only by climbing a tree in the garden could they watch the sun setting across the ocean, and so they began to discuss ways of transforming a garden tree into a staircase, thus allowing them to walk and up and down easily and enjoy the view.
During the course of their final year at the RCA studying on the Design Products postgraduate programme, ter Kulve and McIntyre developed their concept, and began to experiment with various prototypes. Testing out CanopyStair they realised that what they had created was something rather special, much more than just a means to a view. They felt that they had unlocked a gate to a secret garden and made a passageway to a secluded habitat. Forest canopy is the least explored ecosystem on earth, a cloud of life that they could now access unobtrusively. And there was something deeply nostalgic about the experience of ascending the stairs - tapping into childhood memoires of exploring, climbing, trespassing, of tree houses and summer days.
The CanopyStair comprises a cast aluminium tripod frame, lightweight tread, handrail, and a ratchet strap that quickly fastens the step into place. The step design draws on the techniques of aeronautical engineering – McIntyre has a personal connection to the profession, as his grandfather was a chief engineer in the production of the famous wartime De Havilland ‘Mosquito’ aeroplane - the Wooden Wonder. The two felt there was something poetic as well as practical in this derivation.
The Degree Show installation of CanopyStair will be shown in the courtyard of the RCA’s Kensington campus and on the plinth facing Kensington Gore and the Royal Albert Hall. It is sponsored by Haworth Tompkins Architects. Thanks also to the Hampstead Heath arboriculturalists for the loan of an oak tree trunk and other assistance.
Photography by Tony McIntyre