Geo Joker

I wonder what the first person to build a staircase was thinking? I guess they were probably setting out to solve the problem of how to reduce slippage while walking up an incline, with the solution being to build a structure that enables each footfall to occur on a flat surface. Still, the whole zig-zag shape we now take for granted must have looked at least a little bit comical, in a right-angular sort of way.

I’ll own that I have a particularly geometric sense of humour. I think it comes from being a professional statistician with a personal interest in modernist architecture. Yes, I do find it to be a big joke, and a very good one at that. Sadly, not too many people are in on it. The cheese stands alone.

The glasswork on mid to late twentieth century office blocks particularly kills me, to the extent that I’ve considered becoming a glazier. Melbourne is rife with the kind of thing I’m referring to, but it’s a bit hard to put into words without having an example right in front of you, plus the right historical knowledge to contextualise it. But I’ll give it a red hot go.

Take your garden variety outdoor glass balustrade. Melbourne CBD is home to plenty of examples, if you keep your eyes peeled. Next time you clock one, take note of the angle it’s positioned at relative to the ground, which will be the same incline as that of the staircase it’s paired with. Then, mentally bisect that angle and compare it to the angle of the sun to the highest point of the building, viewed from the bottom of the staircase, at precisely 4pm. Finally, add 20% to your calculation.

Trust me, this works every time. Once you see it you won’t be able to unsee it. Don’t feel too badly if you don’t get it, though. It’s definitely on the obscure side of architectural appreciation.