Changing the Residential Stairway into a Work of Art

By Pygoya






August 1994








The Pygoya House is a residence created to house ART besides a family. From the beginning artist owner, architect and general contractor-designer have joined creative forces to conjure a living adventure that "frames" a huge art collection (besides the fantastic ocean view below) in a suggested museum context. Thus there is the ambiance of elegance from many classical columns, archways, high ceilings besides receded tracklighting throughout the home.

I don't believe any other construction of a residence is as well documented as this project. The owner has gone almost every day to photograph the latest work towards the eventual completion of the home, creating a documentation of over ten volumnes of processed photographs. Unlike most contractors, Jian Ji of W-1 Construciton, Inc. has been receptive to change orders during the construction phase, even proposing some of his own, thereby improving the quality but retarding progress of completion (and raising costs). Such regular observation of the developing plan has been educational to the owner-artist, enlightening him on how a house is built from the ground up.

Besides a comprehensive final package that defines space for contemplating art and living in luxury there is the challenge to create new architectural space that is an artistic statement in itself.

I chose the structural support elements of the typical residentail stairway as my "raw art medium." To this artist the stairway typifies the intricate abutting and fixation of wooden pieces to make a functionaing and safe staircase. This "framing", before hidden by walls and floor finishing, intriqued me as a neophyte designer-builder. I am amazed at "framing", or the intricate interrelationships of boards of wood that together capture empty space space of a lot, eventually leading to enclosed "rooms."

So many changes of perception of scale occcurs during the building process. Future living space appears too small when only the foundation cement slabs exists. The future space grows perceptually when framing walls are erected that jut upwards, carving out future living space from the preexisting open space above ground. Then when beams cross above to support future ceilings the suddenly boxed but yet open space expands again as height and volume is taken into account by the senses. Further mental scaling expansion occurs after encasement with walls and ceilings, painting with receding colors for walls, finishing touches of interior design, window placement and treatment, floor and ceiling selection, and controlled lighting all captivate the mind, thereby deemphasizing the actual limiting dimensions of the room.

My stairway architectural sculpture denudes some areas of conventional closure of stairway wood framing by overlaid white drywall. I want to display the "guts" of the stairway. Visitors will not only gawk at the daring revelation of the hidden architectural "truth" concealed from their eyes (and mind) in other homes but will hopefully also "appreciate" the building system necessary to create the safe and functional stairway (and house in general) that is constructed with wood framing. I challenged the carpenters to do their best craftsmanship on these framing elements, usually concealed by future occupants eyes (for example, remove wood splinters, cut perfect 45 degree bevel ends, sand for finishing, insert nails perfectly, use wood putty at seams and joints, choose the best "2 by 4s"). The open areas of the drywall of course where "closed off" with finishing material, here, glass panes with border molding. Such transparent areas offered the opportunity to peer through "looking glasses", within the stairway. Inside controlled lighting creates a "in-process' yet surreal environment. Additional elements such as selected painted framing and building artifacts (nails, abandoned hammer and saw within, rope) create an interior a unique display-showcase-stairway-art installation. Selective ascending and descending transparent Plexiglass stepping creates interactive variables of height experience for the user of the staircase. Of course effort is made not to disorient the user thereby causing a potential hazardess situation.