The award-winning Monument Valley is a puzzle game that uses architectural mazes and structures to lead its character through optical illusions in various levels. It’s an M. C. Escher drawing come to life, featuring interlocking bridges, rotating structures, and staircases that lead to nowhere. Inspired by the beautifully designed best seller, we looked at real-life staircases to nowhere created by artists and architects around the world.
The glass-fronted congress building in the Biel-Bienne district of Switzerland features an aluminum staircase that leads from fake door to fake door — an optical illusion in keeping with the building’s overall tricky. The structure appears much taller than it really is.
Do-Ho Suh’s Staircase is based on his personal memories of architectural spaces, including his parents’ home in Seoul and his own apartment in New York City. “The space I’m interested in is not only a physical one, but an intangible, metaphorical and psychological one. For me, space is that which encompasses everything. So in that sense, one could say that my art looks at diverse forms and media through the prism called reflection on space,” the artist explained.
At the entrance of Felicity, California, known as the Center of the World, is a 25-foot section of the original stairway from the Eiffel Tower. The French government removed 500 feet of the original staircase in 1983 since it affected the weight of the structure. Pieces were sold off to various individuals and institutions.
Rachel Whiteread’s free-standing staircase sculpture isn’t a solid block as it appears, but rather a shell made from layers of plaster and fiberglass matting. Whiteread is known for casting impressions of negative spaces and Untitled (Stairs) is no different. The artist cast the surface of the stairs and the space above them in her new home, joining it all together. “It really started a long time ago when I made House,” she explained. “I work in a linear way, and when I made Ghost, I thought it would be interesting to explore the possibility of casting an entire house; House came from Ghost. When I made House, I thought there was something missing; I was slightly irritated by the fact that I’d left the walls in and that the staircase hadn’t actually been taken out.”
Motoi Yamamoto’s salt staircase installation holds personal significance for the Japanese artist. He created the piece after his sister died from brain cancer. In Japan, salt is used for ceremonial purposes, including funerals.
Olafur Eliasson’s nearly 30-foot spiral staircase sits in the center of a courtyard in Munich. “Visitors experience this invisible sphere when walking up and down the stairs, whose steps vary in height as they follow its curvature. Sophisticated engineering enables the helix to be balanced on one point at its base.”
German artists Heike Mutter and Ulrich Genth created an elevated pathway that looks more like a carnival roller coaster than a staircase. The 68-foot structure sits on top of a hill in Duisburg, Germany and winds around in a spiral. Visitors can walk on it (most of it, anyway) and explore its curves.
Rudi van de Wint’s monument honoring those who died in the Tenerife aviation disaster in 1977 features a spiral staircase. The structure symbolizes infinity, but also calls attention to the lives that were cut short — just as the stairs end abruptly.
Peter Coffin’s spiral staircase defies logic, boasting unusual angles, rendering the steps totally useless. A visual play on Escher’s Infinite Staircase, Coffin “bridges art history and everyday experience, subverting the preconceptions of both.”
David McCracken’s Diminish and Ascend toys with perspective. The large sculptural installation appears to be a never-ending staircase hovering over the sea in Bondi, Australia. At other times, it appears to stretch into the sky — all depending on the angle you view it.