Step Into the Void: Tunneling Stairs at the Mercado Libre Office in Buenos Aires
Few interior design elements have the tremendous power to transform the feel of a space quite like stairs. When they’re treated as merely functional, they can fade into the background — but grant them the position of a focal point and throw in a little creativity, and you’re bound to get a dynamic and exciting result.
At the Mercado Libre Office in Buenos Aires, Argentina, a collaboration between architects and designers has produced some of the coolest tunnel-style stairs you’ve ever seen. BMA Arquitectos, Studio Elia Irastorza, and Methanoia came together to produce a working area for the company that would “boost and inspire talent and creativity,” embodying the booming Latin American e-commerce brand’s young, innovative, and distinctive style.
For the designers, that meant imagining stairs as a social space, and using them as a series of connections between floors that would allow employees to navigate the building “in a more unpredictable and personal way.” Key to the flow of the space is a principle of freedom of movement, offering users a choice of two or more different ways to move up or down within the building.
Multiple circular “tunnels” of stairs pierce each level at various points across the floor plan, each one lined entirely in medium-toned wood that contrasts with the starker, more industrial elements of the building.
The designers say they were aiming for a material palette that communicated comfort and warmth, not only from the wood, but also from living plants, lots of natural daylight streaming through massive glass windows, and oversized art pieces like sculptures and murals. They also identified multiple “areas of influence” where employees from different departments can congregate and socialize.
The architects add that the “multifunctional, fluid, and adaptable space was developed as an area that nurtures teamwork and leaves room for personal growth. It understands the office as a whole, instead of [dividing it into] separate floors, with the key instruments for integrating all of the different areas of the project [being] the ‘social stairs.’ These links are the protagonists, creating several connection points between each level. [From them,] a new type of communication arises, allowing the users to experience the office as one whole democratic space that encourages the exchange of ideas, and a dynamic workspace. Instead of [implementing] a traditional and static method of circulation, this new system embraces a non-linear movement. Since there are two links in each floor, one can walk around the nine office floors through a different path each time.”
“The core of the project resides on the sixth floor, where the stairs evolve into terraces that can even turn into a grand amphitheater. This space houses the main public area and the reception. Throughout the project, artistic interventions that fuse with the architecture through different materials and textures appear, creating a richer [sensory] experience. The other central concept introduced in the project was the use of vegetation in strategic points. Vertical divisions made of green walls and virtually enclosed spots allow certain areas of the plan to become more private and quiet for spontaneous meetings.”
The result takes what could have been an overwhelmingly large, cold, and impersonal office facility and injects it with friendliness and personality — two things a lot more workspaces could use in greater doses.