2,000-piece plywood staircase bags a RIBA Award

Up, down, and round the corner of stairwells are where people converge, interact, brush past, bump into each other and have conversations. Its purpose as a piece of architecture and social space is undeniably important, so when the original grand staircase in a London home was removed to make way for another, it was no surprise when the designers decided to supplicate it with a bit of warmth—by using wood.

Tsuruta Architects pieced 2,000 fragments of plywood like a large jigsaw for the four-storey, seven-bedroom 20th-century house. The new stairs are cosy and compact, partly to ensure all the rooms fit.

Part of the brief was also to convert the house’s layout into an open-plan living space, including a kitchen and dining room; two bathrooms; and four bedrooms on the upper three floors, as well as a flat in the basement.



Some panels were scrawled with email exchanges between the client and the architects.


The plywood pieces were fashioned using digital fabrication and CNC machines. They arrived on-site along with a 14-page instruction manual that detailed its assembly, which “any carpenter [could] understand.” Assembly took two weeks. The L-shaped sections were glued and nailed together to form the treads and risers, and then rods were threaded through holes left in the steps to join with the balustrades. These are made of larger sections of cut plywood.

Another 300 pieces of plywood were also cut and combined with an old window frame to form a translucent screen that separates the stair landing from the two bathrooms and a utility room.

Hidden storage is secreted all over the house. At the top of the stairs, under the eaves, is Marie’s wardrobe—the project’s title—with a space for every shoe.

Marie’s Wardrobe was the winner of a RIBA London Award 2017.


Images: Tim Crocker