## In a Pinch

[Image: A staircase in the Grands Magasins Dufayel; view larger].

The second staircase I wanted to post today—here’s the first—is from the Grands Magasins Dufayel, a vast, 19th-century department store in Paris. View it larger.

Aside from the obvious grandeur of the structure, what makes this spatially noteworthy is the fact that one floor is pinched together with the next, and that the self-supporting “pinch” that results then becomes formalized as a stairway, a hyperbolic object in space that allows passage from one level to the next.

It’s as if a loop has been pulled or extracted from each level and then woven together—in effect, using a self-intersecting geometric pattern as the basis of a floorplan.

In any case, what I like in both examples (this one and the previous staircase), is that you have two floors or levels, obviously, but then there is the emptiness that separates them, a gap buzzing with unrealized forms of connection, and that you can fill that gap with pinches, spirals, knots, and loops, and that the magic of a well-designed staircase is precisely in giving material form to the invisible math that hovers in the space between floors.

(Originally spotted via ARCHI/MAPS).

## Solved by Knots

[Image: Stairs inside the New York Life Insurance building, Minneapolis, by Babb, Cook and Willard; view larger].

There are two stairways I wanted to post, as they each solve the problem of getting from one floor to another in a particularly interesting way. The first example, seen above, is from the New York Life Insurance building in Minneapolis, Minnesota, designed by Babb, Cook and Willard.

View it larger.

What I love about this is incredibly simple, and it’s nothing more than the fact that a constrained approach from one floor to the next—with the far wall serving almost more like a cliff face—gave the architects no real room to operate. So they put in two, mirror-image spiral stairways, which kept the center of the room clear while dramatically increasing its available circulation space.

Today, of course, we’d probably just stick an elevator there and be done with it—but the compression of space made possible by spiral staircases is amazing. They are elegant prosthetics, connecting two levels like a casual afterthought with their efficient knots and coils.

Here’s the second staircase.

(Spotted via the always interesting ARCHI/MAPS).