Daily Dose: Staircases

Add to TwitterTimes have changed since the 16th century, have they not? One of the biggest shifts has been the expansion of our personal worlds. That sounds a little strange, but allow me to explain. Even up until the last 50 years, people have generally lived out their lives in the geographic areas in which they grew up. Their friends, families and contacts were likely nearby and the notion of connecting to people from other countries seemed far-fetched and probably somewhat pointless. Their worlds consisted of what they could see or visit without too much trouble. With the introduction of the internet, globalisation of people and their ideas has come into full-force. Now, grade-school children have international pen-pals and people make connections across the globe without giving it a second thought. Our worlds have expanded to include the ideas and cultures from every corner of the planet – and our goals and expectations are growing as well.

MUMUTH staircase, Image © Iwan Baan

MUMUTH staircase, Image © Iwan Baan

What does this have to do with architecture? Today, I was reading about the Haus für Musik und Musiktheater (MUMUTH) in Graz, Austria and its fabulous staircase. Ban Van Berkel, a principal at UNStudio, the design firm in charge of this impressive project, discussed the staircase’s connection to serialism in contemporary music. He claimed that the staircase and serialism both had the “ability to absorb and regulate intervals, interruptions, changes of direction, and leaps of scale without losing [their] continuity.”

MUMUTH staircase, Image © Iwan Baan

MUMUTH staircase, Image © Iwan Baan

The building’s focal point is indeed impressive, as it needs to be to hold our attention and interest. It reminded me of Michelangelo’s stair design for the Laurentian Library in the San Lorenzo Monastery in Florence, Italy. Not quite as impressive to viewers of today, Michelangelo’s staircase was considered revolutionary for the 1500s, as the MUMUTH staircase is now. The three parallel flights of stairs expand as they descend the single level from the library to the entryway. This slight fanning out gives the illusion of much greater depth and spatially transforms the building.

Staircase for Laurentian Library

Staircase for Laurentian Library

A beautiful, elegant staircase to be sure (I wish I could contribute more personal insights, but it was being restored when I visited San Lorenzo…), but a little lackluster when viewed with 21st century eyes that have come to know a much broader scope of the human possibility for creation. I suppose that’s the price we pay for progress – the dimming of awe at the effects of past achievements. Take a little time with this one, and see if you can’t see what Michelangelo’s admirers did – a truly innovative piece of architecture.

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