MEDIA ARCHITECTURE DESIGN EDMONTON I Supporting the creative community in Edmonton by hosting events and providing opportunities for local designers
The Urban Stairs are Edmonton’s answer to the Spanish Step. The design team wanted to build upon the existing vernacular within stairs in the river valley and take this element of the Funicular as an opportunity for placemaking. On either side of the staircase is the express area, where users can run or push their bikes up the staircase. In the centre sits concrete benches, grouped in clusters to encourage people to stop, sit, gather, and take a look at the view. Designers imagined that on Canada Day, for the fireworks, these stairs would be packed with people anticipating a view of the spectacle. It is a social gathering space as much as it is a staircase. The way these concrete boxes have been laid out and sized is to allow for those different type of interactions. There are places where you can sit by yourself and take in the view as you eat lunch. At the bottom of the staircase, the largest cluster of concrete benches sets a stage for larger groups, where even a classroom could come and talk about the river valley and its ecology.
The code around exterior stairs are different, and handrails are not mandatory on exterior steps. When the drawings were submitted to the city, many questions arose: what is the Funicular? Is it a building? Does it need a code review? The design team used the existing stairs as the design precedent to approach issues related to code requirements. The project was a balancing act for the design team, between trying to make the project the most accessible place possible and also being a space to gather and use in different ways, such as finding a place to run. The slope nears 50% in some places, and this created challenges for the landscape architect due to issues with erosion and geotechnical stability. The design team worked hard not to disturb the slope grade at all. Swinging the orientation of the steps away from the busy roadway, and instead towards the Low Level Bridge, moved the steps along the natural slope of the hill. The architecture and design of the Funicular elements are meant to complement the beauty of the hillside. The design team chose wood as a cladding material to complement the existing vernacular of the hillside. The design team surveyed the number of people that run the stairs, and this justified the choice of wood as a material. Wood facilitates the experience of climbing the steps for runners. The project team measured the different river valley stairs and interviewed runners to pinpoint the most desirable rise over run for the stairs, and as such, optimize it for people walking up and down the stairs. The designers used blue foam prototyping, a technique used by automotive designers, to explore optimal bench sizes on site.
On a project like the Funicular, where lifespan and durability are key priorities, designers often lean towards choosing hardwood instead of a soft wood as a cladding material. The design team selected Kebony wood to clad several parts of the Funicular. This product allowed designers to use a softwood, specifically, a Southern Yellow Pine from that grows in the United States. Kebony utilizes a treatment process in Europe that allows it to perform a lot more like a hardwood, so it has a much longer lifespan, and is more durable while still maintaining a natural appearance. This choice echos the existing appearance of the existing wooden river valley steps connecting the multi-use paths. Kebony is cheaper than using teak and emits a pleasant odor, due to the method in which it is treated (the wood + the sugar). It is not stained, and is instead impregnated with a process that stabilizes the wood.