down is the new up

Everything about stairs are rational, logical, rigid, systematic. In fact they are a science unto themselves. The standard height of a riser is 6 or 7 inches. Standard length of a tread 10-12 inches. Seattle building code dictates that there can only be a maximum of 14 individual steps before a landing is required. All of this and more goes into the making of a flight of stairs, yet we walk upon them as if nothing has happened. When we need to go up or down we head for the stairs. To most of us stairs are always just there. Their existence is always assumed, a foregone conclusion that involves very little thought.

That is until we encounter a flight of stairs that are just slightly off. We notice when our foot suddenly hits the front of a riser or the back of a tread. We are momentarily displaced when the steps stand only 4 or 5 inches high. And if we walk up more than 14 steps without a landing we instinctively groan and complain about these damn stairs!

In fact stairs are imbued not only with their own science but their own mythology. Stairs are about mobility, progress, uplift, new heights, advancement but also come with the potential of a cataclysmic accident. One wrong step and something serious could happen; instead of going UP you’ll be falling DOWN.

“The stairs descended uncertainly like raindrops trickling down the wounded face of a rock.” -excerpt from The Emigrants by George Lamming

Thanks to my friend Chris for being well informed on all things stairs, building and architecture. Also, I apparently suck at wordpress and have been publishing and unpublishing various drafts of this post complete with different titles and content. My bad.

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