As all architectural items, stairways fulfill a dual function: a utilitarian one connecting two vertical planes and an aesthetic one enhancing the decorative aspect of a building. On both accounts, they are the spine of a complex space, and like its biological counterpart they channel and connect all traffic from above to below and the other way around.
Unlike doors or windows, stairways express with the strongest voice the language of a building. Hollywood made them the focal point of many a movie’s narrative. Film stars descend them as drama reaches its climax. Think of Gloria Swanson in “Sunset Boulevard”. Or ascend them to tragedy as Kim Novak did in the ever hypnotic “Vertigo.” Busby Berkeley in a much lighter mood concocted his candied choreographies around fanciful stairways.
Experimental, royal, magnetic or prosaic they are leading supporters of some powerful scenography. They sustain the manner of thinking from which the rest of a building assembles its personality. Being primordially a functional feature, they insist on conveying something else, of radiating a message.
Filipppo Juvarra must have reflected upon them three hundred years ago when he designed a magnificent baroque palace attached to the old medieval castle in the center of Torino, the Plazzo Madama. The project was never completed, except for the façade and the internal stairwell. This work of theatrical proportions stands, deprived of its organic parts, as a radical example of architecture as an accidental folly, a majestic ornament without its natural audience. Yet, fully self-contained in its seduction.