I’ve been reading about patterns again. I’ve been asked to explain Pattern Languages for Design to a group of designers and interaction designers. And reading through Christopher Alexander’s fine book I suddenly thought about the stairs in the Vatican museum. And ran to dig up a photograph.
To exit the Vatican museum you have to walk down this incredibly beautiful long spiral staircase made of many many shallow steps. You cannot run down this staircase. The handrail is an intricately carved wonder of craftsmanship– polished by thousands of hands and people, dazed by the wonders they saw barely able to stand upright, neck still craned from gazing at the Sistine chapel.
Some might consider the stairs inefficient, even unusable. There is a partially hidden elevator for those who cannot use stairs at all– but the stairs are so low-rising, so shallow that the oldest granny who has not yet resorted to a walker can totter down them. And only young kids would grow impatient– the stairs permit the art to settle in your mind. The circle down is a mediatative labarinth.
The art in the Vatican is vast and mind blowing– even mind numbing. it’s like the Louvre: far more than a person can absorb in a visit, and most visitors travel so far to see it that they attempt it anyway. This staircase was made to allow you to make a full transition from the pope’s century of treasures back into the waking world.
I think of how many times I’ve exited a museum only to run into the back of someone who is come to a full halt, unable to cope with the bright sunlight and screaming traffic. The Vatican has not such issue.
I name it a pattern; transitioning between view space and life.