Think about it: stairs date way back to the first human structures. Or in simple terms, stairs provided easier access to caves and huts!
Then in medieval times, stairs evolved due to new building structures. Inside defensive towers, in particular, spiral staircases became common as they provided an advantage to the person fighting on the upper level. Also, with the stairs wrapping around the inside walls of towers, there was more space for someone to hold a sword in their right hand.
As a photographer, I am fascinated by spiral staircases. Our perception of them can completely change depending on the angle from which we look at them. From the bottom up, a spiral staircase appears a lot more reduced since the steps are eliminated. Looking into a spiral staircase from the top down often reveals an interesting feature in the center, such as a fountain, a plant or a mosaic floor.
Let me present some of the particularly beautiful spiral staircases in Zürich. And for those wanting to take their own photographs, I will provide some tips on how to take a winning shot.
The spiral staircase at Zürich Main Station is hiding in plain sight.
Honestly, it took me a while to figure out where to find it! So, let me spare you the search: this spiral staircase leads from the ground floor up to the Restaurant Au Premier...
In this case, I prefer the view from below given the stunning black and white contrast.
My recommendation is to slightly overexpose the photo in order to get the nice, white walls properly represented. Then, increase the contrast in the photo editing app of your choice. For comparison, here is the view from the top down:
Moving on to the Zürcher Hochschule der Künste (ZHdK) at the Toni-Areal...
Not round but rectangular, the 10-story high "tower" staircase made of concrete at Zürcher Hochschule der Künste is impressive both looking up and looking down:
This building was created as part of the conversion of the Toni milk processing factory by the architecture firm EM2N. The bluish color originates from the difference in color temperature between the natural light and the artificial light. It is visible when looking from the bottom up.
In general, staircases with lots of natural light tend to create a lighter appearance. Here is an example from Altstetten:
Looking down, the windows and shadows are clearly visible while the lights and wires add character and interest.
While looking up, the natural light creates a nice contrast almost diagonally across the photo. And the lights add some subtle color:
Speaking of color, it can sometimes be a major factor for a stunning staircase photo. As was the case at Genossenschaft Kalkbreite in Zürich:
The different buildings of the Kalkbreite complex contain several staircases in different colors.
Another good example of a colorful staircase is the Bleicherhof, finished in 1940 according to plans by Otto Rudolf Salvisberg:
Some of this greenish yellow color is even visible at the bottom when looking down, even though the grain of the wood and the stairs are the main features.
On the opposite side of the color spectrum, let’s finish with possibly the most photographed spiral staircase in Zürich: the Sihlporte by Otto Streicher.
And one last photo suggestion: with a wide-angle lens, sometimes it becomes interesting to take a sideways photograph of a staircase. Why not?
PS. If you bring a friend, you can also have fun by having them walk up or down the stairs to add some additional visual interest and scale to the overall photo!
Latest posts by Dominik Gehl (see all)
- Why it’s tricky to “see” the Mirage Project by Doug Aitken - March 27, 2019
- Where to find the most stunning spiral staircases in Zürich - February 21, 2019
- Some recent photographs of Zürich’s stunning architecture - November 12, 2018