BBVA Compass Office Space Features Floating Stairs: A Structural Rubik’s Cube

BBVA Staircase

BBVA Compass Building — Floating Staircase Between Levels 19 and 20

A few weeks ago, I had the privilege of serving as a docent during the project tour at the landmark BBVA Compass building (2200 Post Oak) for the Rice Design Alliance (RDA) annual membership meeting and reception. It was one of those “proud mom” moments. To some degree, every project becomes your baby, so to speak, but a few really stand out. This project is one of those for me.

I remember very clearly when the call came in. Construction was well underway, the concrete being poured for level 16. The owner’s representative explained that a change was needed for level 19 to accommodate a floating staircase between levels 19 and 20. BBVA and Gensler’s interior group were still ironing out the details, but it would take up two bays of the south side of the building.

Working as the structural engineer on the project team, this is the type of assignment Cardno Haynes Whaley is very passionate about – helping to make the client’s and architect’s concept a reality. Sure, I had done floating stairs before, but not at this stage in the construction process. I quickly enlisted help from Principal-in-Charge Frank Lo and the rest of the team to discuss potential layouts and designate the likely connection points for the structure. With a little bit of sweat and elbow grease, we successfully developed a new layout for level 19, just in time for Manhattan Construction to build it.

While construction continued on the building shell, we met frequently with BBVA and Gensler to help them design their dream stairs – a true floating staircase, with glass rails and no landing columns or supports. Structurally this can be compared to a Rubik’s Cube, with many moving pieces that have to fit together just right. Frank and I developed a concept, then I put together the custom analysis models that we thought would accurately depict the final product. The next step was an internal peer review; Principals Wally Ford and Ronald Chen, as well as Project Engineer Marco Cano, all participated in that process to confirm the design.

Together, the project team produced final drawings of a floating staircase that satisfied all parties. The stairs would be built with exposed steel framing (painted white), architectural treads and glass railing.

As the various RDA groups toured BBVA’s new facilities and stopped by the level 19 staircase, I was beaming with pride at all of the positive comments I heard. Being part of a team that can successfully collaborate to accomplish these types of project challenges is extremely rewarding. And each time I visit the BBVA offices, I’ll know that we had a hand in designing those floating stairs.


Cardno Haynes Whaley was pleased to have the opportunity to work with the owners and project team on this exceptional building.

Owners: The Redstone Companies, Stream Realty Partners
Building Architect: HKS
Interiors Architect: Gensler
General Contractor: Manhattan Construction Company
Building MEP: Blum Consulting Engineers
Interiors MEP: I.A. Naman + Associates
Civil Engineer: Klotz Associates

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