Stairway to Heaven

People often avoid climbing a staircase, although it is more healthy and ecological to do so instead of taking a lift. In the perception of the user ascending a staircase can be made lighter by use of colour psychology. Introducing coloured strokes on the steps with a ‘heavy’ colour below, rising to a ‘light’ colour at the top is thereby aesthetically attractive and people are encouraged to take the staircase.

Heavy and lightweight

Colours can arouse an experience of weight. Light colours such as pastels are felt more lightweight than dark colours.[1] Heavy is compared with hard and large, whereas lightweight is sensed rather soft, fine and small.[2] When colours have the same intensity such as red and green, red will weigh more heavily than green. Heavy colours are blue, black, orange and red. lightweight colours are green, purple, yellow and white.


The colour combination white-on-blue is used in the staircase experiment not only because of the weight of the particular colours (blue, heavy / white, lightweight) but also for its symbolical meaning. In several earlier texts this colour combination is researched. The ascending power of it is retrieved cross-culturally.

– To take off: lift, ascending the staircase, to make a career.

In all activities where the movement is upwards you retrieve this rising image in the white on blue colour combination. Among other things in the imaging of lift companies and in the world of airline companies. By placing white above blue a release arises. The laws of gravitation have been raised and we take off in an unreal world without worries, pain or suffering which situates itself symbolically between the white clouds against a blue sky. In religions the white on blue concept is very considerably present. When gods leave the earth they take off, without the aid of a plane and seemingly without effort at all. Like the virgin Maria in the Christian tradition ascends from her grave, one way destination heaven.

– To reach the top: become the number 1, to be the leader, to be rich and powerful.

To ascend a staircase or ladder is a metaphor for a succeeded career or for a successful company growth. If one has reached the top then one stands really at the top, then one is the leader, the man or woman with power, where all others look up to. The low/high metaphor concerning social status is universal. The direction is up high. Then one resides with the other masters of the earth, a select club of a happy few elite. Then one gets a beautiful salary or is one rich. To be rich is often associated with flying in a private airplane.

Intervention in a public space

I performed the experiment at the Steiner-Waldorf public school Lier (Belgium) during its annual open day event in may 2011. The following slide show shows an overview of the staircase experiment mixed with images from international publicity and art.

Find more on white-on-blue:

Schiphol new logo: the shape/The end shape

The Knight, the Dragon and the Battle, part 1: The Knight.


[1] Meerwein, Rodeck, Mahnke. Color – Communication in Architectural Space. Basel, Birkhäuser Verlag AG, 2007.
[2] Osgood, C. E., Suci G.J., Tannenbaum P.H.. The Measurement of Meaning. Illinois, University of Illinois Press, 1957.

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