The architecture of the staircase combines form and function, upper and lower space. It can represent power or status, or symbolise spiritual elevation and the climb to knowledge. A new book published by Thames & Hudson, The Staircase: The Architecture of Ascent explores the history and meaning of the staircase, from the simple, straight-flight steps of the Mayan pyramids, to the radical spiral ramp of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Guggenheim Museum and the computer-aided designs of today.
The steps of the Toltec-Maya pyramid at Chichen Itza, Mexico are an early example of the simple, straight-flight staircase - the ancestor of all stair design. Appearing to stretch up to the sky, this style of staircase came to symbolise an ascent to heaven and infinity, and has captured artists’ imaginations from the Odessa Steps in Eisenstein’s film Battleship Potemkin to the steps in Orson Welles’s The Trial. (All images courtesy of Thames & Hudson from The Staircase: The Architecture of Ascent by Oscar Tusquets Blanca, Martine Diot, Adelaïde de Savray, Jérôme Coignard and Jean Dethier.)