Also known as stairs that move, today’s escalator seems as revolutionary a concept as vending machines, barely more exciting than coin-operated pay phones. Slowly and diagonally, they move pedestrians up toward destinations with indeterminate reward—like a second-floor Gap. Frequently central pieces of architecture, escalators climb stories with ease, but they’re often eyesores. A handful of designs, however, take the necessary model to the next level. Practical can be pretty, and worthy of a runway—or at the very least, a stunning step up.
Photo: Wim Vanmaele
Atomium (Brussels, Belgium)
While nothing can beat the exterior of Brussels’ Atomium—originally constructed for the 1958 World’s Fair, it’s designed like a magnified unit cell of an iron crystal—it’d be silly to overlook the beauty of its parts. Metal tubes connect massive spheres and double as pathways, wherein original escalators make lengthy journeys (one of which, just under 115 feet long, was Europe’s longest escalator at the time).
Photo: Delfino Sisto Legnani and Marco Cappelletti
Fondaco dei Tedeschi (Venice, Italy)
Originally constructed in 1228, Venice’s iconic building Fondaco dei Tedeschi arrived long before the first escalator landed in 1896 (in Coney Island, believe it or not). Commissioned to rework the ancient landmark into a new-age department store, architecture firm OMA articulated a new path through the historic building, dressing the escalator with runway-ready accents: red steps, red trim, and rich wooden paneling.
Photo: Nikolas Koenig
Public (New York City)
Ian Schrager’s shiny new Public hotel in Manhattan’s Lower East Side makes an entrance—no surprise for the hotelier known for cofounding Studio 54. Past the ground floor’s revolving doors, escalators designed by Herzog & de Meuronare encased in metal tubes that shoot toward the second-floor lobby. Inside, mirrored surfaces reflect and repeat the golden-orange lights that are piped along handrails, much to the delight of Instagram.