Once visitors see the new AGO, they will have the enviable task of deciding just which architectural feature they like best.
Will it be the spectacular glass-and-Douglas-fir Galleria Italia sculpture promenade, the floating spiral staircase that connects both levels of the centre for contemporary art in the south tower, or any of the new or renovated gallery spaces that house a favourite work of art?
For many, the baroque-inspired sculptural staircase will be the most memorable design element. This iconic staircase will be named in honour of Allan Slaight and Emmanuelle Gattuso, whose extraordinary gift to the campaign made it possible.
Starting from a second-floor walkway and continuing up through the glazed roof above Walker Court, the sculptural staircase spirals dramatically as it scales the three-storey height of the new south tower. Its unique curvature juxtaposes with the boxshapes of the new tower and the existing building, creating an architectural dialogue not only between the classical and the contemporary but also between the past and the present.
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Sculptural Staircase under construction. Photo credit: Craig Boyko, ©2008 Art Gallery of Ontario.
The staircase’s location above Walker Court – the historic heart of the Gallery – will make navigating the AGO much easier for visitors. “It ties the building together in a dramatic and beautiful way,” says Linda Milrod, program director, Transformation AGO. “The placement of the sculptural staircase on a central axis will ensure that people always have a sense of where they are in relation to the new entrance lobby.”
As they climb the stairs, visitors will experience unique vantage points that overlook the sculptures installed in Walker Court. The staircase will also provide previews of the light-filled entranceways to the Baillie Court hosting centre on the third level of the south tower and the centre for contemporary art on the fourth and fifth levels above.
“At times people will feel quite enclosed by its walls,” notes Milrod, “but as they round a curve, the relative height of the walls will be lowered to reveal the most breathtaking views of the city – much like watching a great movie on the big screen.”
The curvilinear form of the sculptural staircase is consistent with other major elements of Frank Gehry’s design, most notably the sculpture promenade, the cantilevered and emergency staircases of the new south tower, and the serpentine ramp in the Gallery’s new entrance.
Although the staircase is grand in scale, its circulation route is both narrow and humanly scaled to encourage casual meetings between visitors. “It’s how Gehry envisions people using the building,” says Milrod. “It’s about social interaction while surrounded by art.”
When he first unveiled his design plans, Gehry described the sculptural staircase as a space where people might bump into each other and perhaps even fall in love.