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The Escherian Stairwell

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The Escherian Stairwell-0(06:28)
RIT documentary series, "Can You Imagine?" examines the stairwell.
Kefke WrenAdded by Kefke Wren
Stairwell
Schematic of the stairwell.
Kefke WrenAdded by Kefke Wren
At the Rochester Institute of Technology in New York, there exists a curious architectural anomaly. Dubbed, "The Escherian Stairwell", this structure uses unusual geometry and optical illusions to trick those walking on it into believing that they are walking up and down a continuous flight of stairs, while in reality bending back around and in on itself. Located in the university's Building 7, it was designed by genius Filipino architect Rafael Nelson Aboganda, based on the drawings of M.C. Escher, in 1968. Aboganda wanted to create a "memorable and inspiring experience" for future students of the university. However, both he and the stairwell faded into obscurity shortly after its completion.

The Myth

Some say that the lack of information about the stairs is intentional. Over the years, a number of strange cases have come about in connection with the Escherian Stairwell. However, discussion of the stairwell, and these events in particular, is actively discouraged by certain members of the RIT faculty. Despite this, the rumours persist.

  1. Perhaps the best known of these is that of the "Phantom Voices of Building 7", known even to students who don't know about the stairs themselves. Being a place that gets little regular traffic, the stairwell is a sometimes-popular hangout for people wanting to get away from other people for a while. The acoustics of the stairs make voices echo, but according to some who have spent time there, the echoes don't always match what is being said. Most assume that this is simply the odd shape of the stairwell distorting sound waves. However, stories have been told of other voices being heard, or whispers when no-one is talking.
  2. According to a report in 1983, female student Melissa Wood was found wandering Building 7, looking pale and ill. Faculty who discovered her reported that she seemed "delirious and incoherent", and kept insisting that she "couldn't find the basement". Reasoning that she needed some fresh air, Melissa was moved out of the building. However, according to eyewitnesses, upon finding herself on the ground, she became highly distressed, and passed out. She was rushed to medical treatment, where she was found to be suffering from symptoms associated with a moderately severe case of decompression sickness, otherwise known as "the bends" - a condition which normally effects divers who surface too quickly. When Ms. Wood eventually recovered, she indicated that she had been on her way to recover something that a fellow student had misplaced in the building sub-basement, and mistakenly entered the Escherian Stairwell due to the late hour and her fatigue. She claimed to be unable to remember how many flights she had "descended" before exiting the stairwell.
  3. Newspaper
    Article detailing the fate of Alexander Thomson.
    Kefke WrenAdded by Kefke Wren
    A similar, but far more unsettling incident occurred in 1998, when two male students, Joshua Brock (Junior), and Alexander Thomson (Freshman) entered the stairwell after a period of heavy drinking. According to a later report by Brock, he had learned that Thomson was unaware of the existence of the Escherian Stairwell, and made a bet that he could reach the top of the fifth flight of steps before the more athletic freshman could. He had intended to keep pace with Thomson for the first four circuits of the stair, then to allow himself to fall behind, and wait for the other student to complete the fifth lap alone, where he would find Brock already waiting for him. However, according to Brock, Alexander Thomson never completed the final lap. Upon falling out of sight, he simply vanished, and the confused junior was unable to locate him. A campus-wide search was initiated, but Mr. Thomson did not turn up until late into the second day of searching, collapsed in a Building 7 hallway, and exhibiting signs of malnourishment and over-exertion. He reported having no memory of what had happened during the time he was unaccounted for.

In addition to these, there have been a number of other strange and unexplained cases regarding the Escharian Stairwell. Some even report sighting phantom figures going up or down the stairs, just out of sight, as they enter. Yet these figures never come out on the other side. Are these phenomena only psychological? How does the Escharian Stairwell seemingly defy our understanding of geometry? Is it merely a trick, or something far more dangerous? Perhaps, only Rafael Aboganda knows for sure, but if so, it may be that this is a secret he has taken to his grave.

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