Endless Stair: Like stepping into an Escher painting

Call it a stairway to heaven. A towering temporary installation now on display in front of London's Tate Modern is made up of a series of interlocking staircases that veer left and right.

Endless Stair is designed to be transported easily and reconfigured endlessly. When taken apart, it reaches more than a quarter mile in length. Judith Stichtenoth/dRMM Architects

Staircases are generally pretty straightforward. You go up them and you go down them, usually on your way somewhere.

Endless Stair, a temporary sculpture that currently stands on the lawn in front of London's Tate Modern, is more about the journey than the destination. Made up of a series of 15 interlocking staircases that veer right and left, the 25-foot-tall structure looks like it stepped right out of an M.C. Escher drawing. That's not a coincidence; it was inspired by the famous Dutch artist known for his mathematically inspired labyrinthian constructions.

"Escher's inspiration was something that drove us to make a staircase that was not possible necessarily to understand as a simple linear composition," Alex de Rijke, who makes up the "dR" in dRMM Architects, says in a making-of video on the project. "It's something that was complex, that was interlocking, and perhaps spacially impossible."

The architectural firm collaborated with engineers, materials specialists, and lighting designers to erect the 187-step wooden staircase, which welcomes visitors daily from 9 a.m. to dusk and offers great views of the Tate and River Thames.

Endless Stair will remain in front of the Tate through October 10 as part of the London Design Festival. The festival commissioned the structure in partnership with the American Hardwood Export Council, which tasked architects with constructing an installation using panels of American tulipwood -- an abundant and relatively inexpensive hardwood, according to the AHEC -- and producing as little waste as possible.

dRMM Architects quickly landed on stairs as their project of choice. Endless Stair is designed to be transported easily and reconfigured endlessly. When taken apart, it reaches more than a quarter mile in length.

"On stairs, people interact, they pass each other, they are always interesting places with spatial and social potential," de Rijke said. "We thought a staircase would be a good vehicle for exploring structure, space, and making a sculpture. Stairs are sculpture's gift to architecture."

American Hardwood Export Council

About the author

Leslie Katz, Crave's senior editor, heads up a team that covers the most crushworthy (and wackiest) tech, science, and culture around. As a co-host of the now-retired CNET News Daily Podcast, she was sometimes known to channel Terry Gross and still uses her trained "podcast voice" to bully the speech recognition software on automated customer service lines. E-mail Leslie.

 

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