A small crowd of people gathered outside 1295 W. 10th Ave. in Denver’s historic La Alma/Lincoln Park neighborhood on Friday for the unveiling of an “Interactive Staircase.”
The “Staircase” is a multi-media art installation that is also intended to encourage healthy living among the neighborhood residents.
The 40-foot staircase lit by LED lights is one of the many art-centric features in phase three of redeveloping Denver's Mariposa District, a 17.5-acre urban stretch adjacent to the 10th and Osage light rail station.
The Denver Housing Authority (DHA), an organization that focuses on redeveloping urban settings while maintaining affordable housing, is spearheading the revitalization program.
“This is the only one that I’ve ever seen, in the state, country or anywhere else,” architect Rezan Prananta says of the installation. Prananta works for the Denver-based firm Shears, Adkins Rockmore that designed the staircase.
After hours of online research, Prananta and his team found only one art installation that resembled their vision for the installation: the “Piano Stairs” -- a musical staircase in Stockholm, Sweden that mimics the chords of a piano with every step taken.
Like the “Piano Stairs,” the “Interactive Staircase” also makes music.
Staircase users can play notes while traveling up the staircase by striking buttons along the handrail with their fingers. A chandelier of rectangular glass panels funnels down the center of the winding stairs, answering the music of the handrail with dancing lights.
Playful LED animations depicting the sun rising and setting, rain storms and animals respond to the sounds.
Prananta commissioned Christopher Rojas to help design and create the musical components of the responsive stairwell. Rojas, who used to reside in Boulder, is a creative technologist with the Portland-based company Interhacktive. He had previously developed the concept of a musical handrail and shared his technology with Prananta and his team.
Young rappers and musicians from Youth on Record, a community initiative founded by Denver-based hip-hop troupe the Flobots, provided musical accompaniment for the unveiling on Friday.
At one point, a teenager from the ensemble “played” the stairs like a keyboard while rapping. His colleagues then joined him in the rhythmic verse. The chandelier and glass panels lit up in response to the rappers' original song as they performed.
As if music, lights and movement weren’t enough, the staircase also has a narrative component.
As people ascend or descend the staircase, they can follow the story of the Mayan god Kukulkan. Prananta says the story of Kukulkan is important to the project because of the neighborhood's large Hispanic and Latino population.
“From the exterior of the building, to the architectural design and this particular piece, we adopted elements of the Mesoamerican culture,” Prananta says. “It’s all interconnected.”
Working with residents of the Yucatan Peninsula who have extensive knowledge of the Mayan culture, Prananta and his team designed visuals and audio that convey the sights and sounds of the Yucatan rainforest, its inhabitants and its climate changes.
All of the artwork for the project was supplied by artists within the community.
Kimball Crangle, who has been the DHA senior project manager in the Mariposa District since 2009, adds that health is also an overarching theme to the redevelopment in the area.
DHA implements the Healthy Development Measurement Tool (HDMT), an approach to community development that originated at the San Francisco Department of Public Health. The concept is to infuse healthy lifestyle resources into urban planning by providing more access to physical activity, healthy food choices, enhanced biking and pedestrian opportunities and health care.
Designed with the HDMT methodology, Crangle believes the visual and aural aspects of the “Interactive Staircases” will entice able-bodied people to use their legs to climb the stairs rather than taking the elevator.
“From a DHA perspective, we feel we made a clear statement of how health is important to the built environment,” Crangle says.
Sean D Brown Cinematography, a production company in Portland, is in the midst of creating a documentary around the staircase for DHA. It is expected to be completed in July or August.