In the pantheon of the gods…

….is where many an egotistical starchitect hopes to place themselves. It could be postulated that we all have a strong tendency to want to see how far we can push people before they run away from our building in terror. And nothing is easier to manipulate emotions with than stairs. Stairs are ubiquitous because, barring those who are handicapped physically, we use them nearly continuously to change height all day. They are something we have an unconscious faith in. “You are not going to fall through the cracks, no matter how big they are. You will make it up without dying. You always do.”, we think to ourselves. And generally we are right. But even normal stairs can be treacherous. A fall down a flight stairs can do serious damage without warning, especially to an elderly person. Further, a minor fear of heights is, in my opinion, fairly common. I don’t run screaming from a ledge, but neither do I proceed without some caution because falling down from high places generally causes pain*.
SO we are left with a lot of latent fears, which we bury really deeply because we prove to ourselves daily we are wrong. Until an architect starts giving you reasons to rediscover them. Generally by creating stairs that make you think your going to fall off at any moment and die, but do so in a way as to make you look chicken if you don’t force yourself to use them anyways.
The BEST example of this is the glass stairs made famous by Apple stores. Gorgeous glittering pillars, winding glass crystal forms leading you up to the shiny expensive delights of the Apple store. And they are smack dead center in the room. So poor innocent Sally, who is not thrilled about stepping onto a material she knows is fairly breakable, which is furthermore nearly transparent except for a slight green tint (uncharitably one might suggest this was done because clear glass is incredibly expensive), is forced to make her way up the remarkably skinny winding treads, because the store is packed and everyone else is doing it. Also, they hid the elevator. Score one for the sadists.

boylston_gallery_photo5 boylston_gallery_photo6
I, too, have given in to this impulse. I will defend myself somewhat by saying it was the second semester of my architectural career, and I was still drunk on power. Also the misery of being in studio while everyone else in the world is having fun on the weekends might have contributed somewhat. Just because we are sadists doesn’t mean we spare ourselves. Anyways, I wasn’t consciously trying to torture people (mostly). It was a project in a theoretical two room museum, and they only things we could control were the placement of two pieces of art, the window and the stairs.  I used my placement to reflect the subject matter and to create the illusion that the light in the room was causing the lighting in the painting.  The stairs were designed to take you from a dark enclosed space into a floating light filled flight that would lead to the second gallery.  There was a metaphor of enlightenment and accession that was inspired by the religious subject matter of the second painting.  Although a bit pedantic, the effect did work out fairly well considering how early it was in my education.

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Even in our homes we are placing these beautiful nightmares.  This stair I found on Gizmodo a while back inspired this post.  Designed by Ábaton, it is incredible.  Stunning and very likely deadly, you can click on the link to see more images.

Abaton- Casa C-51 Stair

Finally I’m reblogging this roundup of all the subcategories of these manifestations of an architect’s desire to play with your brain.  Because they did a good job, and because I need to finally post this post.  I plan on having the bookshelf stairs until the day I die.  Which will probably correlate closely to the time of it’s installation.  But I’m sure that’ll be a coincidence.

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4 responses to “In the pantheon of the gods…

  1. But how cool would a circular glass elevator smack in the middle of those stairs been? Modern convenience made as shiny way as possible is totally their brand. Plus then the stair treads would have been a better depth. Until iTeleport makes stairs obsolete.

    • I wish I could leave a thoughtful, intelligent reply – because you’re exactly right, that would have been an alternative route Apple could have gone – but all I can think about is the glass elevator from Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory and worrying it’s going to crash through the ceiling.

  2. In Apple’s defense, hiding the elevator could be viewed as encouraging physical activity through design in everyday life.

    Or that they don’t sell elevators, therefore deserve no place on their show floor – whereas those terrifying glass stairs are very much part of the ‘brand’ Apple is selling consumers. We have to wait until Apple develops its own method of transportation, the iTeleport.

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