Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Halfway Down the Stairs

The Tate Britain re-opened in its full glory today, following a massive refurbishment. Apparently one of the highlights is the new staircase:

Tate Britain, Millbank, London (Image source)

And don't we, as a species, just love a good staircase?

Wells Cathedral, Somerset (Image source)

Tulip Staircase, Queen's House, Greenwich (Image source)

Nelson Stair, Somerset House, Westminster (Image source: David Holt London)

Tassel House, Brussels (Image source)

De la Warr Pavilion, Bexhill-on-Sea, Sussex (Image source

What is it about staircases that we find so appealing? Is it simply the graceful sweeping form of a curved stair, and the pleasing angles and geometry of those that are square on plan? Or is the sense of anticipation in not knowing what lies around the next bend or on the next landing? Or is it the underlying feeling of wonder for the mathematics and physics that appeals to us on some subconscious level, even if we aren't engineers? Or it it that slight sense of exhilaration in being able to move across planes and spaces in ways that would not be possible, were it not for these structures?

Whatever the case, I certainly think there is something more profound than pure aesthetics that gives us a sense of awe and great pleasure on encountering a particularly noteworthy, or even a relatively average staircase.

M.C. Escher's Relativity (Image source)

And that, my dear readers, is what I call a tangent - from a gallery re-opening to waxing philosophical about staircases. Though I did manage to draw it back to art with Escher there.

But do pitch in, what is your favourite staircase? Is it a simple stone medieval spiral staircase? A sweeping marble Baroque palace staircase, with ornate gilded balusters? A clean white, sleekly formed Modernist staircase? Or is it something more humble, like your carpeted, timber staircase at home?

With that last thought, let me leave you with an old favourite poem, which might indeed say a little more about the simple appeal of staircases:

Halfway Down
(A.A. Milne)

Halfway down the stairs
is a stair
where I sit.
There isn't any 
other stair
quite like 
I'm not at the bottom,
I'm not at the top;
so this is the stair
I always stop.

Halfway up the stairs
isn't up
and it isn't down.
It isn't in the nursery,
it isn't in town.
And all sorts of funny thoughts
run round my head.
It isn't really
It's somewhere else


  1. Oh what beauty and such delightful musings! Impossible to say a favourite style. I would have spontaneously thought spirals are sooo appealing (even tiled ones at Tube stations) so the Greenwich staircase is perfect. Then I see the Wells cathedral stairs and I love their kind of roughness and undulations. Rough-hewn? (or is that for wood?). The way they continue through the arched doorway definitely ties in with your idea of stairways suggesting a world beyond the immediately visible. I have similar thoughts about my response to fences and gates. I hoped, from your title, that this post was about stairs. Glad you included the whole poem and image. Isn't it the best place to sit - on a step with one's knees perhaps lifted higher than when on a chair?

    1. Glad that the post inspired some musings, and that it spoke to you too. I couldn't pick a favourite personally, which is why so many here, and many left out. But yes, to your comment on gates and fences, these certainly have a similar air of intrigue and adventure...

      And I think anything can be rough-hewn, if you'd like to describe it thus. Certainly stone can be!

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