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Friday, January 17, 2014

Book review: 'Staircases: The Architecture of Ascent'


If the kitchen is the heart of the home, the staircase is its backbone, its spine, its strength. In Staircases: The Architecture of Ascent, authors Oscar Tusquets Blanca, Martine Diot, Adelaïde de Savray, Jérôme Coignard, Jean Dethier lead us through a history of stairs as necessity, art and philosophy:

[Josep Maria Sostres, noted Catalan architect] taught us how the use of horizontal planes was the product of human creativity, since - except for the surface of still water (not easy to walk on outside holy scripture) - such a thing does not exist in nature. He showed us how human beings, now that they were able to walk freely without fear of tripping up, could begin to reflect as they walked; this facilitated the development of abstract rational thought [...]. Sostres made us understand that, if the construction of level planes to facilitate horizontal movement had required a degree of creativity, then imagining a succession of horizontal planes on different levels so as to allow movement in three dimensions - or, in other words, the concept of steps - was a cultural and architectural development of fundamental importance.

Sir John Vanbrigh's staircase at Seaton Delaval Hall in Northumberland, UK.

Stairs convey and confer safety, status, power and wealth. Types, standards, and historical significance are explored as well as cultural impact.

Steps climbing to the ancient fortress of Sigiriya in Sri Lanka.

Staircases spark our imaginations with fantasies of escape and return. Allegories in literature and art of ascent into Heaven and descent into Hell abound.

Nude Descending a Staircase (No.1), by Marcel Duchamp (1911).

Filled with hundreds of drawings and lush photographs of stairs from ancient times to modernity, Staircases: The Architecture of Ascent will appeal equally to the historian, the architect, the traveler and the armchair aesthete.

The Jantar Mantar astronomical observatory in Jaipur, India.

All photos courtesy The Vendome Press.

My thanks to Meghan Phillips of The Vendome Press for the review copy!

1 comments:

Kristen said...

The Jantar Mantar observatory is beautiful. I loved this post, Raina.