Genetic Stair on Design Bureau blog

If ever someone endeavored to build Led Zeppelin’s legendary “Stairway to Heaven,” there’s a good chance they’d ask Caliper Studio to do the work. The Brooklyn-based company — founded by Columbia University graduates Stephen Lynch and Jonathan Taylor and their friend and colleague, sculptor Michael Conlon — has had its hand in more than a dozen feature staircases and is fast garnering a reputation for pushing the envelope in ways that seem to defy the laws of physics.

From the beginning, Taylor and Lynch were determined to use their fluency in the latest 3D-rendering technology to take control of a facet of design that most architecture firms are forced to outsource: fabrication. “Rather than a more conventional architecture practice that doesn’t get too involved in the making of things, we were always drawn to getting our hands dirty and trying to produce the things that we were designing,” Lynch says.

The firm has been getting a lot of attentionfor its unique staircase designs, particularly with its chef d’oeuvre, the Genetic Stair — a project for two Manhattan-based art collectors. Caliper was contacted by the owners to work on a two-part project: first, to merge two adjoining duplexes on Manhattan’s Upper West Side into a single 3,000-square-foot apartment; and second, to design a central staircase that would connect the two floors and serve as a conduit for light from a glass-walled terrace on the upper floor. “Our effort was to be as minimally invasive as possible, and the stair was our opportunity to do something sculptural, which the clients were on board with from the beginning,” Taylor says. “I think because they were collectors, they liked the idea that it would be fabricated, that we would be doing this in our shop.”

The staircase was named after a genetic algorithm that mimics natural evolutionary patterns to create optimal solutions to structural problems. Vastly simplified, it works like this: using computer code known as Rhinoscript, a number of individual staircases are modeled and reproduced over and over until a single, refined structure emerges. According to Lynch, the finished design was the culmination of nearly a thousand iterations, each one a little more perfect than the one before.

“We always try to bring in this idea of a discovered space or an unexpected element and to think creatively about the materials that are around us,” Lynch says. “It’s about understanding the world we live in.”

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Photo by Ty Cole.
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Caliper Studio
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