"It is good to have an end to journey towards,
but it is the journey that matters in the end."
~ Ursula K. Le Guin
Life can be a rat race.
However having an alarming aversion to rats, I prefer to call it a hamster race. We can feel like that little hamster that is running in circles on that wheel. We run, we run faster, we get out of breath, we get off for a little while…but eventually we are back on, running in circles once again.
We want so badly to get that promotion, that degree, or that quaint house on Wisteria lane that we focus so intently on reaching that goal, we can lose sight of our journey. Frequently plagued by the stress and anxiety intrinsic to the hamster race, we often wish to accelerate our life just to get there, whatever there might be.
But, wise philosophers, therapists, Zen masters, and every self help book on the shelf, tell us that we need to slow down and be in the moment to enjoy the present. In other words, life is not simply a means to an end….the journey matters.
In architecture, a staircase is all about journey. It is an architectural element enabling us to get from one level to another. While it serves this purpose, it can also be a rich opportunity to offer us volume, dimension, and an entirely new vantage point. Rather than solely providing a utilitarian and practical function, a staircase can be aesthetically transformed into an interactive sculpture that encourages a dynamic change in perspective.
A staircase embodies dramatic architectural possibility.
The first step is to make the steps comfortable. When stairs are too steep (high riser) or the tread too short (where you can barely place your foot on it without feeling clumsy), there is an awkwardness, and we feel out of breath as we climb our way to the top. Stairs can also feel confining and claustrophobic, making us feel uneasy and unsettled. The other day, I was in a medical building, and rather than take the elevator to the second level, I decided to take the stairs. It turns out that the staircase was actually a stairwell. I opened the door and stepped in, and instantly got this nervous go-as-fast-as-you-can feeling, and hurry-and-get-the-heck-out-of-here vibe. Checking over my shoulder certain that there would be a creepy stalker, I took the stairs two at a time…Clearly I was not enjoying the journey!
The second step is to bring sculptural form that is not only striking to look at, but beautiful to experience. As we ascend the stairs, do we get the sense that we are perched above, hovering between floors? Does the shape of the staircase feel dynamic and energetic? Is there a gracefulness reminiscent of flight?
The aesthetic power of a staircase can be captivating. With its quiet drama, it can profoundly elevate our experience, making our journey matter.