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Pallasmaa, J. (2000). Stairways of the Mind. Int. Forum Psychoanal., 9:7-18.

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(2000). International Forum of Psychoanalysis, 9(1-2):7-18

Stairways of the Mind

Juhani Pallasmaa, Ph.D.

Our materialist culture has turned buildings into objects of utility devoid of any mytho-poetic content. However, in addition to providing physical shelter, buildings should also house our souls, memories and dreams. Like all art, architecture expresses the human existential condition, and our lived space and mind define each other reciprocally. Architecture addresses the body and is experienced multi-sensorily. Fundamental architectural experiences are encounters that appear as verbs rather than nouns. One of the most potent images of architecture is the stair, which possesses a wealth of metaphoric and symbolic connotations. The stair is the symbolic spine of the house, whereas ascending a stair in dream-imagery signifies copulation. The qualitative differences of ascending and descending derive from the images of Heaven and Hell. Stairs appear frequently in literature, cinema and painting due to their extraordinary image power. The staircase is simultaneously a stage and an auditorium. It is also a vertical configuration of the labyrinth with consequent associations of vertigo, and getting lost. Our human reality has become threateningly concrete and one-dimensional as the environment has lost its symbolic dimension. One of the most demanding tasks of architects today is to re-mythologize and re-poetisize the built environment. Is it feasible that stairs would again come to express the existence of Heaven and Hell?

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