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← The hidden ways stairs shape your life

Stairs don't just get you from point A to point B. Architect David Rockwell explains how they shape your movement -- and your feelings.

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Showing Revision 3 created 03/13/2018 by Brian Greene.

  1. I think stairs may be
  2. one of the most emotionally
    malleable physical elements
  3. that an architect has to work with.
  4. [Small thing. Big idea.]

  5. [David Rockwell on
    the Stairs]

  6. At its most basic, a stair is a way
    to get from point A to point B

  7. at different elevations.
  8. Stairs have a common language.
  9. Treads, which is the thing
    that you walk on.
  10. Riser, which is the vertical element
    that separates the two treads.
  11. A lot of stairs have nosings
    that create a kind of edge.
  12. And then, the connected piece
    is a stringer.
  13. Those pieces, in different forms,
    make up all stairs.
  14. I assume stairs came to be
    from the first time someone said,

  15. "I want to get to this higher rock
    from the lower rock."
  16. People climbed
    using whatever was available:
  17. stepped logs, ladders
  18. and natural pathways
    that were worn over time.
  19. Some of the earliest staircases,
    like the pyramids in Chichén Itzá
  20. or the roads to Mount Tai in China,
  21. were a means of getting
    to a higher elevation,
  22. which people sought
    for worship or for protection.
  23. As engineering has evolved,
    so has what's practical.

  24. Stairs can be made
    from all kinds of material.
  25. There are linear stairs,
    there are spiraled stairs.
  26. Stairs can be indoors,
    they can be outdoors.
  27. They clearly help us in an emergency.
  28. But they're also a form of art
    in and of themselves.
  29. As we move across a stairway,

  30. the form dictates our pacing,
    our feeling, our safety
  31. and our relationship and engagement
    with the space around us.
  32. So for a second, think about stepping down
    a gradual, monumental staircase
  33. like the one in front
    of the New York Public Library.
  34. From those steps,
  35. you have a view of the street
    and all the people around you,
  36. and your walk is slow and steady
    because the tread is so wide.
  37. That's a totally different experience
  38. than going down the narrow staircase
    to, say, an old pub,
  39. where you spill into the room.
  40. There, you encounter tall risers,
    so you move more quickly.
  41. Stairs add enormous drama.

  42. Think about how stairs
    signaled a grand entrance
  43. and were the star of that moment.
  44. Stairs can even be heroic.
  45. The staircase that remained standing
    after September 11th
  46. and the attack on the World Trade Center
  47. was dubbed the "Survivors' Staircase,"
  48. because it played such a central role
    in leading hundreds of people to safety.
  49. But small stairs
    can have a huge impact, too.

  50. The stoop is a place
    that invites neighbors to gather,
  51. blast music, and watch the city in motion.
  52. It's fascinating to me that you see people
    wanting to hang out on the stairs.
  53. I think they fill
    a deeply human need we have
  54. to inhabit a space
    more than just on the ground plane.
  55. And so if you're able to sit
    halfway up there,
  56. you're in a kind of magical place.