Upstairs, Downstairs

Staircases are one of the most vital transition elements in architecture; they are designed to connect two spaces, whether it is interior to exterior or different internal levels. The positioning of a staircase in a multi-level building will always be vital, but now it is just as essential to create a design visual and consider the staircase as a main feature. Using metal mesh for the balustrades or panel railings on the staircase is not only a great option for safety but also pushes the design boundaries, writes Anthony Millington, Business Development Manager at Amron Architectural.

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Metal mesh has a long tradition of outdoor use spanning hundreds of years. Over time, metal mesh has earned a reputation as a practical, durable yet surprisingly versatile product thanks in part to its uncanny ability to meet a wide range of specifications. The reason then is the same as it is now, metal mesh is such a versatile product, it has inherent strength, it can be shaped, it is strong and most of all it is attractive.

With a variety of practical exterior applications, including vent panels, cages and baskets, it is little wonder that metal mesh was eventually introduced to the world of interiors.

Metal mesh has been used in stairs since its inception hundreds of years ago either as balustrading or treads. Initially, it was woven metal meshes in steel or brass used for balustrade infills and later lift surrounds. This gave way to perforated metals and latterly expanded meshes followed suit. Unlike the woven meshes, these two products could now be used in both the balustrade and tread, with expanded metal being particularly popular in more industrial environments due to its non-slip properties for external use.

The popularity of metal meshes in stairs has seen it be used in almost every construction sector – from the hardest industrial environs such as oil rigs where the mesh needs to be durable, non-slip and anti-corrosive, to the most delicate of installations in luxury hotels where aesthetic is everything. So, it is not surprising that architects and designers are coming up with new ways to use metal meshes in stairs and balustrades.

Orchardson Street, London

Externally, metal meshes have been hugely popular, where large areas are needed to be enclosed whilst allowing airflow. Woven meshes offer a perfect solution with the ability to be able to span huge heights and widths of up to 2m. Due to their nature, effectively being metal fabrics woven on looms and then produced on the roll, the mesh can be hung from the top of the stair core and rolled down and fixed and tensioned at the base. This means install is very quick and efficient, giving the client time and cost savings, whilst delivering a stunning bright metal fabric finish. These large drop metal fabrics are also beginning to crop up in stair core centres and again offer both the safety and the aesthetic aspect.

We worked directly with the designers Thomas Sinden and M&M Architectural to develop a unique stair core clad entirely in metal mesh as part of a pilot for City West Homes, who were creating sustainable homes within restricted inner-London sites. Alpine metal mesh was chosen due to the panel widths and heights available, enabling a full-height balustrade system to be installed. Suitable ventilation is still achieved in the stair core due to the openness of the mesh.

The versatility of mesh goes on to lend itself to curves and straight lines, with both perforated and expanded having the ability to be formed to a radius for use in a spiral staircase either internally or externally. Woven meshes and spiral meshes also can form and wrap to curves like a piece of fabric as Eva Jiricna demonstrated with the Miles stairs at Somerset House.

Print colour brought to life in stunning office refurbishment

When it comes to the finishing, most meshes can be powder coated to almost any colour. Incorporating the print CMYK formula’s clever use, the former printworks in Clerkenwell, London, had been refurbished into a visually stunning HQ for the Photobox Group.

The four-print colour-coded floors surround a stunning industrial atrium with a central events space at the design’s core. Using exposed original concrete walls, pillars and ceilings, our gratings were used to create the coloured balustrades which were central to the visual design adding a modern and vibrant feel.

Used for internal meetings as well as events and industry meetups, the office is now a highly creative hub for those working within the print and design industry.

Whilst colour can bring a project to life, we are also seeing new patina finishes coming through from companies like Powdertech Corby, which give a modern industrial look and feel but with the performance of a modern material underneath, whilst offering the fire rating that is required. We have seen materials being mixed such as stainless and copper or stainless and brass on the woven meshes. This, of course, gives a beautiful look to the mesh whilst still giving a nod back to the heritage of woven meshes in balustrades.

It is clear that meshes and balustrading will remain synonymous for the given future, and hopefully, we will continue to see designers and architects being creative with these meshes and pushing the boundaries of what we can do.

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