Red Stair Amphitheatre

Red Stair Amphitheatre in Melbourne, Australia by Marcus O'Reilly Architects.

Rising from Queensbridge Square, a public space along the Southbank Promenade of the Yarra River in Melbourne, is a red stair that serves as a beacon, an amphitheater, and a place to sun, among many other purposes. Designed by Marcus O'Reilly Architects, the striking mass recalls numerous constructions, both ancient and contemporary: ziggurats with their steps and battered walls come to mind, as does the TKTS booth in Times Square in Manhattan. Whatever the associations, the color and form clearly indicate that the structure is meant to stand out in its location.

Strongly oriented to the northern sun (this is Australia, remember), one important purpose of the construction can actually be found on the south. There the caps Southbank Boulevard and frames an entrance to a below-grade parking garage. Therefore the red stair makes itself known to both pedestrians traversing the promenade and those driving within the Central Business District. The form transitions between these two sides by folding around towards the steps, as if to further embrace those sitting on the steps.

[The Red Stair] creates a sense of enclosure to the urban space effectively resulting in a modern Piazza. The iconic form and bold use of color helps signalize a truly successful urban space. -Marcus O'Reilly Architects

As an exclamation point in Queensbridge Square, it's easy to see the Red Stair as the place to meet people, like the red TKTS steps in Times Square or even the clock in Grand Central Terminal. This secondary function (secondary in that it is beyond eating, sitting, watching, or other activities that actually take place on the stairs) continues into the nighttime with the LED strip lights that are randomly inserted within the red plywood. The form of the amphitheater can be read with these lights. As well the depth of the mass is articulated through lights set into "carved" sections.

Marcus O'Reilly Architects also designed a vent sculpture (photo below right) for the other side of Queensbridge Square. Where the Red Stair is monumental, with joints that seem to mimic the blocks of old ziggurats, the vent sculpture resembles a garden folly. It is also built of wood, but it is left bare instead of being painted. As well the joints between boards are left open, so the construction glows from within. It serves to balance the space without competing for attention with the steps.

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