Carpenter Lowings’ sculptural glass staircase illuminates Hong Kong apartment.

Carpenter Lowings Architecture & Design, a US/UK collaborative studio founded in 2001 by American sculptor, James Carpenter, and British architect, Luke Lowings, recently completed  ‘Glass Stair + Skylight’, an innovative design for a stand-alone glass staircase and skylight in a private, two-floor apartment overlooking a bay on the south side of Hong Kong Island. The design maximises daylight reaching key internal spaces.

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The staircase – a sculptural installation with an overall height of 5.5 metres – forms a focal point, acting as a vertical, unifying element in the interior design of the apartment. The skylight – measuring 4.4 metres by 1.5 metres and opening onto a roof terrace above – provides an unobstructed view of the sky from within. When in a closed position, the skylight frame is invisible from the apartment below, creating a view of the sky which appears to double in width when seen reflected in two large structural glass screens partially enclosing the staircase. These screens incorporate a vertical reflective pattern – printed inside the glass – which evokes the depth of light created by falling rain.

Luke Lowings, of Carpenter Lowings Architecture & Design says: “This staircase acts as a discrete and subtle sculptural element in its own right. It is both aesthetic – providing a strong visual focus for residents and visitors – and practical – modulating daylight to reduce the harsh glare and intense heat of the Hong Kong climate. The design demonstrates how significant amounts of natural light can be brought into small, relatively compact spaces and transform them into bright, welcoming areas. The staircase’s apparent weightlessness also helps to create the impression of a  floating, ethereal structure rather than one which dominates the living areas. The light of the sky is reflected from the structural glass panels, through the clear treads of the stair itself deep into the lower floor.”

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Designed as a stand-alone installation, which appears to float between the apartment walls, the staircase was built to very high tolerances to ensure it would fit together exactly when assembled on site. The stair is formed en rely from heat-strengthened laminated glass, with titanium fittings bonded into the glass during the fabrication on process. Each stair tread comprises three sheets of glass supported by three fittings. The silhouetting of opaque elements is avoided by minimising the number of metal fittings used. As a result, the design achieves the maximum interaction of light and glass. The skylight can be raised and opened to a maximum angle of 35 degrees to allow easy access between staircase and roof terrace, and can be walked on when closed.

Although designed as a bespoke feature for this Hong Kong apartment (and as part of a wider interior design programme for the residence), the installation – ‘Glass Stair + Skylight’ – has the potential to be adapted for other residential settings, particularly where there is a need to optimise daylight and create the illusion of space.

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Carpenter Lowings Architecture & Design works to develop a synthesis of structure, light and space in an architectural and urban context. The practice has been instrumental in the development and refinement of the use of structural glass. Key projects include Ice Falls, a spectacular glass installation in the entrance lobby to Foster + Partners’ Hearst Tower in New York; the Salvation Army Chapel, London, with Sheppard Robson; and the acclaimed Sky Reflector Net, a cable net structure integrated within the conical atrium of New York’s Fulton Street Station by Grimshaw.

Photography: Kitmin Lee / Carpenter Lowings / Edmon Leong

Carpenter Lowings

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