The Brunel Museum

Location: Brunel Museum, London Architect: Tate Harmer LLP Contractor: Cobalt Green Construction Limited

Considered to be by far our most prestigious project to date, Iron Designs was honoured to be awarded the contract to design, manufacture and install a cantilevered staircase at the entrance to the world famous Brunel Museum in London.

As a manufacturing and engineering company, we were extremely pleased to be asked to work on the site of the world’s finest engineer’s first project, the Rotherhithe shaft. When completed in 1843 by Isambard Kingdom Brunel, the shaft was the world’s first underwater tunnel and was the birthplace of the modern underground system we have today.

The architect’s vision (which you can see in the initial plan drawing was to produce a cantilevered staircase supported entirely on central columns alone, with a new entrance cut through the existing wall.

Their brief was that the staircase and entrance didn’t impact the historical significance of the existing shaft; they wanted to celebrate the raw nature of the Victorian industrial heritage while providing the visitors proper access for tours and performances.

Once we’d received the architect’s drawings we set about producing fabrication drawings (See our GA drawing). There were two significant issues that had to be addressed by the design; firstly, the components needed to be able to get through the new opening, and secondly, the engineering needed to be such that the weight being put on the concrete slab – which was effectively the roof of the train line below – would be approved by TfL (Transport for London). We worked closely with our engineers Mitchinson Macken ( to ensure the necessary requirements were met.

Once approved, the fabricated process began, and when the individual components were fabricated the staircase was trial-erected in our workshop (see attached photos), allowing the architect to view and make any amendments early on. By doing this we ensured a smooth installation, as any minor alterations could be completed prior to the finishing process.

When fully fabricated, the staircase was transported to our finishing company ( where it was grit blasted and painted to the specification provided.

Installation was extremely challenging due to the size of the new opening and the weight of the various components. We hired a HIAB to enable us to lift all the sections through the opening and onto an internal scaffold platform, and then lower the parts into position with an old-fashioned chain block. (see attached time lapse video).

The finished staircase looks exactly like the initial design brief and is a testament to the architect’s vision in creating a useable staircase without imposing it on the space. The chosen colour scheme successfully blends the structure into the walls, leaving the orange coloured handrails as your only clue to the staircase being present.

Everyone that worked on this project feels extremely proud to see their work now fixed into a space that was once described as the “Eighth Wonder of the World”.