Theatrical stairs

A visit to the theatre is a time for exhibitionism. The theatrical use of stairs is more commonly associated with the vestibules to theatres and where vantage points of balconies and landings are visualized to show off the audience as they arrive and depart. The most celebrated promenade is that devised by Charles Garnier with the Grand Staircase at the Paris Opera (Figures 2.26o-c). It is worthwhile studying the plan in detail. The area employed almost equals the auditorium and is so arranged that the central well forms a theatre-sized space, overlooked by balconies

Figure 2.26b The Grand Staircase, Paris Opera House: Half landing and balconies

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Figure 2.26a The Grand Staircase, Paris Opera House, 1861-74 (Charles Garnier): Key plan at first floor

Figure 2.26c The Grand Staircase, Paris Opera House: Cut-away model ofstructure and foyers on all sides. The stairs rise to quarter landings with the upper flights forming bridges left and right. Wrought-iron framing enables the construction to run unsupported floor to floor. The ample proportions and space between solid and void allow the eye to take in the linear movement and for those climbing to the piano nobile to observe and to be observed, it is a truly magical space.

In the first scheme for the extension of the Royal Opera House by Jerome Dixon and Edward Jones, a grand stair was planned, but this was revised and now a long escalator takes the opera audience up to the auditorium without effort in the adjacent beautiful Floral Hall. An escalator is also used at the London Theatre where it travels upward when the theatre-

Figure 2.26b The Grand Staircase, Paris Opera House: Half landing and balconies

Figure 2.27 TV/AM offices and studios, Camden Town, London, 1983 (Terry Farrell). General view of landings and stairs

goers enter and downward when the play is over.

The stairhall and landings at TV/AM were conceived by Terry Farrell not simply as the central circulation space to the offices and studios but as a set piece for filming television (Figure 2.27). The movement left or right from the vestibule to the first floor is dramatized by landings or by groups of platform steps to gather people together. The variety of treatment permits variation in camera position whilst lighting effects can transform any location into a stage set.

Although not a stair for the theatre, the staircase at Les Galeries Lafayette, Paris (Figure 2.28) had a theatrical effect. This fantastic French Art Nouveau stair took shoppers from the ground floor trading area in this department store to the first floor. Although a structure of great signifi-

Figure 2.28 Sinuous stairs and balconies, Les Galeries Lafayette, Paris, early 1900s (stair designer, Louis Majorelle)

Figure 2.29 Swing Time (1936, George Stevens), United Artists, Director, Carrol Clarke cance, it was demolished about 15 years ago in order to provide extra sales area on the ground floor. Obviously listing in France is not so vigorously upheld as in England. Escalators are now provided, tucked away from the main galleries.

Stairs for the movies are outside the usual building experience but the images hold the imagination. Architects such as Hans Dreir, Paul Nelson and Robert Mallet-Stevens, participated in many Hollywood masterpieces. The best remembered is probably the elliptical flight devised for the plantation home of Scarlet O'Hara in Gone with the Wind, designed by William Cameron Menzies. This full-scale mansion still stands on the back lot of Universal Studios, though remodelled for countless other epics. The other celluloid images today exist only on film. The greatest 'flights of imagination' were the special stages built for the Fred Astaire musicals and which had themes based upon multiple stairs (Figure 2.29).

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