MK40 Tower

Milton Keynes Gallery (MK-G) invited us to design a temporary artwork to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the city of Milton Keynes. Our response was a tower that would allow visitors to discover unique views across the buildings and trees, offering a conceptual contrast with the predominant horizontality of the city. We were also keen to use the structure as a chance to test the possibilities of cross-laminated timber, and to this end the tower uses different types of staircase to prove the equivalent of a seven-storey timber building core.The result is a freestanding structure prefabricated in sections made of 162mm thick cross-laminated timber that required no foundation and was therefore possible to erect in less than seven days. No glue was used in its construction: only screws. The fast construction process and unusual form, dominating the square in front of MK-G, attracted a great deal of local interest with thousands of people climbing the 101 wooden steps to a height of almost twenty metres. At the topmost level, a platform offered panoramic views of the city and the landscape beyond, whilst outside, at the base of the tower, stood a temporary coffee bar, housed in the shipping container in which the timber elements of the tower could be stored and transported to another site for reuse. The interior of the coffee bar was lined with the work of artist Richard Woods, and giant window opening shapes from the top of the tower – ‘M’ ‘K’ ‘4’ and ‘0’ – were used as furniture for the public square. An accompanying exhibition documented dRMM’s realised projects and research in engineered timber construction techniques.In common with other cultural works (such as Endless Stair or The Future is Here) MK40 Tower can be seen as ‘useful art’, actively engaging with the public and furthering the possibilities of structural design.Photography © Alex de Rijke, Anthony Carr, Jonas Lencer, Satoshi Isono