Open Access Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington
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A Subconscious Ascent: Exploring the Architecture of the Metaphoric Staircase

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posted on 2021-11-12, 14:19 authored by Erickstad, Samantha

This research explores the significance of the stair as a spatial and symbolic architectural experience. The stepped form integrated with architecture. The stair is an integral feature of architecture which has the potential to be specifically designed to enhance space and create particular experiences. A stair is not only a functional object, but a medium for design. Metaphorical staircases are absent in contemporary architecture as a loss of meaning has resulted in monotonous designs devoid of figurative or poetic significance. The staircase has been a fundamental component of architecture since Neolithic times, however has recently been neglected. The stepped form has represented many themes including hierarchy, transcendence, or authority. In contrast, the contemporary staircase has embraced pragmatics. Safety restrictions, efficiency, and budget constraints, result in disregard for aesthetics and meaning. Film provides a behavioural setting in which to analyse how people move, behave, interact, and experience staircases. A range of films will be analysed to identify techniques for meaningful stair design. The influence of surreal qualities will also be determined to enhance an experience. Surreal imagery offers the opportunity to create dreamlike space, activating the subconscious. The metaphoric connotations of staircases will be explored through six research categories; the stair as Symbolic, Illusive, Transitional, Kinetic, Psychological, and Iconic. Design case studies will then investigate the intersection of the staircase as architecture, filmic representation, and surreal experience. The stepped building Casa Malaparte in Italy acts as a reference model for the successful integration of these concepts. With influence of these themes, the staircase can once again become widely acknowledged as architecture.


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Date of Award



Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

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Author Retains Copyright

Degree Discipline


Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

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Degree Name

Master of Architecture (Professional)

Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Research Masters Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of Architecture


Wood, Peter