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Architectural Details: The Sculptural Concrete Staircase of Loft Panzerhalle

This loft apartment in Salzburg is a stunning study of sculptural design.

Sydney Franklin Sydney Franklin

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This dramatic design inside a former tank repair facility in Salzburg, Austria, isn’t the sweeping interior of a Calatrava civic space or a Steven Holl library — it’s a 3,800-square-foot private apartment by Viennese firm smartvoll Architekten ZT KG.

Loft Panzerhalle is a breathtaking, minimalist living space that reinterprets the idea of the loft apartment. The architects were challenged to preserve the historic building and bring natural light into the spacious structure. They opened up the entire apartment and illuminated it through the second-floor ribbon windows.

The design revolves around a central sculptural staircase clad in smooth, waxed concrete. Not only does it serve a practical purpose, dividing the room and creating a roof over the kitchen area, it can be considered a piece of architecture itself.

“Through the stair sculpture, which spans across the rooms,” said the architect, “you do not see the way between the levels as a vertical, functional connection, but rather as an electrical spatial experience.”

The process photographs above show how the stair was cast in situ, supported by an intricate arrangement of scaffolding and faceted formwork. The resulting stair appears to flow seamlessly into the second-story floor slab, which sweeps around from a mezzanine upon which further living quarters are located.

From the first floor to the highest point of the pitched roof, the voluminous apartment measures some 8 meters [26 feet] in height. The master bedroom, guest room and bathroom exist on the sinuous galleries of the upper level. A transparent glass shower cube cantilevers out from the bathroom into a void above the ground floor, giving the feeling of floating above the ground.

The furniture throughout the loft seamlessly integrates into the construction, including a bookcase opposite the main sleeping space. A hidden wellness area features a built-in fireplace.

The lava-stone kitchen sits underneath the stairs in a 7-meter [23-foot] block. It is a multifunctional unit for working, eating and conversing. Herbs can also be grown directly from the space.

The living room, workspace and entertainment area lines the first floor and the building’s old brick walls. This level is connected to two balconies that include a zen garden, grassy knoll, tree jasmine and a relaxation terrace.

With the use of very few materials, the project celebrates the notions of free space and magnanimity. The stairway serves as a focal point in the design, though the sculptural structure is much more delicate than it appears upon completion.

As it ascends, the staircase gets thicker to maintain structural integrity and eventually blends with the floor slab above. In the final photos, the staircase design is an authoritative point of convergence, dividing up the void and helping to preserve a semblance of domestic scale suitable for a residential program. Built with elegance and precision, it is a classic example of how a single piece of bespoke construction can help create unique architecture.

Viewed from one end, the project is symmetrically satisfying. As Smartvoll describes it, the architecture of the building unfolds from the inside out, and from any angle, the composition is undeniably striking.

The loft is part of a network of spaces inside the Panzerhalle building that includes market stands, co-working offices and restaurants.

Research Staircase Manufacturers

Enjoy this article? Check out the other features in our series on architectural details:

Herzog & de Meuron’s Spectacular Elbphilharmonie

Toyo Ito’s Flowing Concrete Canopy

Elissa and Alvar Aalto’s Patchwork Wall of Bricks

Herzog & de Meuron’s Pristine Timber Box

Mies van der Rohe’s Iconic I-Beams

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Images via smartvoll Architekten ZT KG