Staircases through History
by Eva Jiricna
Staircases are one of the oldest building elements in architectural history, though it would be difficult to date their origin precisely. They appear to change with architectural eras, reflecting the prevailing philosophies and symbolic languages, unveiling the talent and ingenuity of those who have created them.
They respond to the type of society for which they were built and, among other things, inform us about the existing state of the arts, fashion, and technology. They become landmarks and trademarks, a constant source of inspiration, a never-ending story; they have been and will remain a stimulus to new and different interpretations, as there can always be an innovative solution to a perennial architectural problem.
Among all of the other architectural elements, staircases occupy a special position and can — and very often do — totally overshadow the building of which they are a part. The skill with which some stairs, past or present, have been built very often stretches the limits of human imagination.
Sometimes it is the technical knowledge that sweeps us off our feet, another time the appearance, the form, materials, or specific detailing. Staircases are an integral part of our daily life, as much as a special event or a memorable experience. The associations connected with the stairs of the Paris Opera or those sweeping sets in the Busby Berkeley movies of the 1930s fill an important place in our memories, where reality meets dreams.
This article is excerpted from Staircases by Eva Jiricna, with permission of the publisher, Watson-Guptill Publications. >>>