Stairway Made From Milk Crates: Hit or Miss?

Stair Side© Lendager

Christopher at Danish architecture firm Lendager Arkitecter pitched this stair to our design tips email (Have something to pitch? Send it here!) He writes:

We have a radical approach to the projects that we do, and are concerned about effects on the environment before aesthetics.... In the design of our own office, we have a rule of only building with upcycled materials, and doing joints and assemblies that are easy to disassemble, so that all materials can return to their individual cycles. We wished to design a staircase and came up with a result that is built entirely from old milk-boxes and OSB-boards. The design is stripped together so that the staircase is easily disassembled.

Now I do not usually criticize tipped projects, and am not being critical here, but this raises so many questions critical to the meaning of green design, that I hope it starts a bit of a debate.

Stair angle© Lendager Arckitekter

1. The stair is made of milk crates, which are reusable. Were these at the end of their useful life? If not, then new milk crates would have been manufactured to replace them. It's not recycling or upcycling if they still could have been used to deliver milk.

2. The architect is "concerned about effects on the environment before aesthetics". Architect and writer Lance Hosey might disagree, writing in The Shape of Green: "If it's not beautiful, it's not sustainable. Aesthetic attraction is not a superficial concern- It's an environmental imperative. " Can you put the environment before aesthetics?

3. Stairs historically have been designed to a rise and run developed over centuries, roughly with a ratio of 17/29. There are a lot of different formulae that usually mean that the shorter the run, the higher the rise. It's based on ergonomics and convention, what we are used to and comfortable with. This stair is based on the dimensions of a milk crate, has no nose to the tread, and are almost at a 1/1 ratio. At what point do we sacrifice design for humans to design for old milk crates?

stair head on© Lendager Arkitekter

Now I happen to be a big fan of the work of Lendager, the stair is a showpiece in their office and designed for deconstruction, and it's a fun thing. Perhaps I should take a pill and relax. However it raises so many questions about what we call green and sustainable design. What do you think?

Tags: Architects | Denmark | survey


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