Harvard Gazette speaks with professor Preston Scott Cohen about strange beauty of stairwells

The Harvard Gazette recently took a look at some of the distinctive staircases and stairwells around Harvard’s campus, from the marble of Widener Library to the steel and glass of the Northwest Science Building. In addition to a rare photo gallery chronicling 18 noteworthy staircases from deep within the University’s buildings, the Gazette offers reflections on the form and function of the stair from Preston Scott Cohen (MArch ’85), Gerald M. McCue Professor in Architecture at the Harvard Graduate School of Design.

“[The stairway is] the one point in the building where you recognize the space shaping our movement so specifically,” Cohen says. “Everywhere else we can move left, we can move right, we can move this way and that; of course a corridor directs us to move in a particular direction; however, the stair is more prescriptive, more definitive.”

The stair is “not just an object,” he says. “It’s a doer.”

Cohen also notes the aesthetic contributions of the stair, which he calls “the most eloquent and beautiful way to represent directional, sequential, spatial ideas.”

Read the Gazette’s full feature, including 18 remarkable photographs of staircases around the University.

Photo: a stairwell within Dudley House. Photo courtesy Stephanie Mitchell, Harvard Staff Photographer.