Esprit d’escalier: the wit and symbolism of the staircase


What is it that fascinates us so much about staircases? More symbolically rich than any other building element, the staircase gives rise to a multitude of associations.

The staircase is a place of fleeting conversations, chance meetings, contrived accidents, secret assignations, ghostly encounters, lost opportunities for witty responses, and a symbol of lofty ambition.

It can be a descent into the underworld (‘Abandon all hope, ye who enter here’) or a Jacob’s ladder leading into heaven.

Do you dream about going up or down stairs? It could mean that you are coming to a decision on a complicated issue… The bottom of the stairs represents your current reality; the top landing is the conclusion for which you strive.

Any budding guitarist, of course, will attempt to learn the inevitable ‘Stairway to Heaven’ intro. (The bane of many a music store.)

There is even a page on Pinterest entirely dedicated to ‘Wonderful stairways and staircases‘.

For photographers, staircases are a constant source of inspiration. When viewed from above or below, the stairway takes on a purely graphic, geometric quality – like an abstract pattern rather than a physical object.

Out of self-indulgence, I thought I would share with you some of my favourite images of stairs and steps – below.

In the meantime – if you need to find, compare and select staircases, balustrades and handrails, is a good place to start:

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2 Responses to “Esprit d’escalier: the wit and symbolism of the staircase”

  1. Joren van Dijk Says:

    Hey Benedikte,

    Interesting article! I think people like the fractal property that a lot of stairs have.

    For more information, check out Yannick Joye’s research towards architecture, fractals and nature.

    Kind regards,


    • Benedikte Ranum Says:

      Hi Joren,

      Many thanks for commenting, and for the link to Joye’s fractals research!

      I keep coming back to fractals in architecture, too (and refer to Joye’s work here – I think you pointed us in that direction in the first place, actually).

      Fascinating stuff. There is definitely some innate appeal there, I think…

      Thanks again for your continued interest – I look forward to following your updates on Twitter, too.

      All the best,


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