Stairs that lead to nowhere


Giovanni Battista Piranesi. Tower with Bridges, from Prison Caprices. 1760-61.
Etching, 55.2 x 41.6 cm. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

I have always been fascinated with Piranesi’s Tower with Bridges. This work is part of a suite of 16 etching he made of imaginary prisons between 1760-61. He created architectural spaces that seemed to recede indefinitely in all directions and was filled with endless stairwells surrounded by a multitude of cables, pulleys, and levers. The spaces were complex, full of arches, vaults and continuous pathways and extremely mesmerizing.

In my previous post about bridges and how we could think of them as non-places the same could be said about stairwells. Stairwells are designed to bridge a large vertical distance into smaller manageable vertical distances. Stairwells do not arrange space but instead merge elevations together providing easy access to all levels without confusion. But what happens if stairways are made to do the exact opposite? What if they are constructed to complicate our notion of space and our ideas of connection. Here is a series of stairwells created by artist’s that confuse and twist our perceived logic of a staircase.

Do-ho Suh  Staircase (2003) at the 8th Istanbul Biennial


Do-Ho Suh, Staircase-V, 2008


Michael Elmgreen and Ingar Dragset, Social Mobility (Staircase) (2005), Aluminium, wood, iron, and concrete



Henry Krokatsis, The Artists’ Playground, 2008


Rachel Whiteread, Untitled (stairs), 2001, mixed m

Peter Coffin, Untitled (Spiral Staircase), 2007, aluminum and steel


Olafur Eliasson, Umschreibung (Rewriting), 2004


Michel de Broin, Revolution, 2010, Steel


Sabina Lang & Daniel Bauman, Beautiful Steps #2 – 2009, Biel-Bienne CH, “Utopics. 11. Schweizerische Plastikausstellung”


3 responses to “Stairs that lead to nowhere

  1. Hey, love the Peter Coffin one, a perfect infinite loop, i somehow feel they should not expose it leaning against a wall thought. The one in Munchen is a classic for sure, so elegant! great post…

  2. Pingback: Winchester Mystery House | citymovement·

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s