Accidental aesthetics

May 13, 2015

Sometimes, efforts that appear to have gone awry can deliver results that are every bit as striking as designed solutions. This occurs in some scenarios where an ad hoc approach has been applied to the formation of a given object or space. Either that, or somebody who has been involved in the construction of the steps pictured below is a lot cleverer than I am.

A set of concrete steps that run down into the Waitara River is a perfect example of this. After a long drive through to Taranaki on a research trip for an upcoming book (in conjunction with David Straight), we were pleasantly surprised to come across these stairs (which appear for a fleeting moment to be playing tricks on the eye).

The steps consist of three distinct stages of having been laid. What appears to be the first stage (below right) is a full flight of steps with a more weathered surface and a rolled edge on the outside. The purpose of this kind of rolled edge intrigues me (as we have seen a similar effect on a residential staircase in Dunedin). One potential reason that I can see for treating the edge in such a way is to reduce the effect of degradation over time from the water, as a curved edge withstands erosive forces much better than a sharp corner.

The much longer section of steps to the northern end (which covers over two-thirds of the length) has a wave-like surface that I can only guess has been caused by subsidence. The picture is completed by a run of smaller connecting steps that are laid at a slight angle to connect the two different flights of stairs. The net result of this unusual combination of three differently-laid blocks is a compelling series of wave forms that (whether due to an undulating surface or a shift in direction) have accidentally taken on some of the character of the water that they lead down to.

Note : The top image from this journal entry (of the overall stairs) is by David Straight (and may not be reproduced in any form without his permission). Other photos used herein were taken by Philip Smith (and therefore the same image rights apply to these as elsewhere in the website).