Musical Stairs

Swedish designers get commuters off the escalator by making the stairs more fun. It's awesome. And, yet, part of me wonders how creepy this would be if you were descending into the subway alone late at night. Plink...plink....plink...


  1. The old science museum in Minneapolis had musical stairs! (not sure if the new version does or not). I would run up and down them until my mom got embarrassed a the amount of dischordant noise I was making. This is a more polished execution, and it would def inspire me to run on them… probably unti lI got tired enough to take the elevator.

  2. The new one has them too! They have two sets–one that’s a typical piano-like sound and another that’s bird tweets or drums or something.

    1. Yes, that “SoundStair” by Christopher Janney is programmed by a computer and changes throughout the day, so you can have a rain forest sound in the morning and ocean sounds at night, for example. It never gets boring and is more intricate then simply imitating the keys of a piano.

  3. Unfortunately, there are a few problems with this.

    1) Novelty Appeal Will Wear Off – Once people get used to the stairs, it may no longer be entertaining to use them. In fact, since it is difficult to play an actual melody without leaping up and down the stairs, the rising and falling tones might get downright obnoxious with repeated use.

    2) Efficiency and Feasability – How much electricity is consumed via sensors and speakers? How much maintainance is required to keep the “keys” clean and operational?

    3) Purpose – What is this trying to achieve? Light novely? Encouragement toward fitness? If you don’t want people using the escalator, why have one?

    ~D. Walker

  4. Hmmmm. I think part of the rationale for escalators is to move people out of the station faster – hence the London Tube’s escalators speed up or slow down depending on traffic. This would seem to encourage people to dawdle. Design fail.

  5. Just to address D. Walker’s 3 points above:

    1) If piano keyed stairs were everywhere, sure then the novelty would wear off. But really, I would take them if they were on a path to work every day just to hear them. I don’t know the feasibility, but monthly updates could also be done to change the pitch / tone of the keys.

    I also don’t think for the 20 seconds that someone is in the stairwell that the sounds would become ‘obnoxious’. If you lived under those stairs, then yeah that would suck.

    2) If 66% more people use the stairs, the maintenance for the escalator in theory should be decreased. You would also be able to run the escalator at a slower speed as the number of people using it would be reduced. This perhaps could offset some or all of the ongoing costs of the stairs.

    3) An escalator is still useful for people who are unable to take the stairs. Older people, someone with a broken foot, suitcase, etc. would use it. Having to route all of these people to an elevator would be an inconvenience that keeping a simple escalator alleviates.


    1. All your points are valid, but the main purpose of this installation is to amuse a handful of commuters for one afternoon and –even more importantly– to get a cool video out of it.

      Mission accomplished I think.

  6. @cinemajay – *FACE PALM* St. Paul, Not MPLS… HUGE brain fart. I lived in St. Paul years ago. I am truly ashamed. Need to go back and visit more…
    thanks for correcting me.

  7. Tobergil & Anonymous, let’s apply a little reason here and actually do some research on the topic instead of shunning it right away.

    This is viral advertisement for Volkswagen. Primarily, it is promoting “The Fun Theory” and furthermore the fun products Volkswagen sells. Secondarily, the point of the exercise was not to combat laziness but rather to achieve a smile. They succeeded, as you can see people will stray from their routine and put forth more work to gain some sort of engagement and pleasure. I’m not familiar with Swedish commuters, but in North America, the average commuter makes efforts to block themselves off from everyone else (headphones, where they sit, just try to start a conversation with a stranger). Also, take a look at their other projects – a bottomless trash can and what appears to be a whack-a-mole bottle return centre. It’s cute design that garnishes a smile. There is no technical or engineering goal for any of these.

    @ Anonymous –

    1) If your analyzing their product then at least apply the same design process as they did. You can’t just presume any of your statement.

    2) The price you pay for the abovementioned. If you want to over-engineer this thing, setup generators in the door hinges above and/or below the stairs if they don’t already have them.

    3) See above. It isn’t to encourage fitness.

    That said, does anyone know the design firm responsible for this? It’s obviously not from the intern desk of I remember having an assignment in first year of design school where this would’ve been very fitting. The project brief was one line, something like “Change a stranger’s heart. Document it.” This would’ve been taken top marks.

    1. My brother was part of setting this campaign up, exciting to see it end up on Boing Boing! @Quiet Noises: He works for an agency called DDB in Stockholm – if I remember correctly it was their interactive team, Tribal DDB, that was responsible for this. Feel free to contact me if you want to get in touch with the people behind this and I’ll happily relay.

      1. I am interested in finding out who installed this piano staircase in Stockholm. If you can direct me to anyone involved it would be very much appreciated.



      2. I would like to contact them–my design team is trying to create musical and light-up stairs to motivate young children who must climb stairs for physical therapy. We don’t want to re-invent the wheel!

        1. Go to- They did the ones in the Boston and St.Paul museums. They are currently creating one for the Childrens Hospital Boston an in discussion with the Veteran’s Administration.
          They are the best!!!!
          M. Dwyer

  8. The Boston Science Museum still has its Soundstair installation — which I believe was originally an MIT student project. Theirs is tuned to a pentatonic scale, so it sounds pretty good no matter which steps people are on, and doesn’t pretend to be a piano. Nothing very special by today’s standards, but fun if you haven’t seen it or are killing time waiting for the next planetarium show to start.

    1. The Boston Science Museum soundstair was still there this summer. (Or perhaps was there again — but it looks and sounds like exactly the same hardware.)

  9. the science museum in boston has a sound stairway going up to where they have temporary exhibitions like body worlds and star wars etc. it is not a piano though.

  10. You know, if somehow they fashioned the keys onto escalator treads instead, it might just sound like a Morton Feldman piece. . . .

  11. Can’t see why they need an escalator for such a short distance. In the london underground some or even most of the escalators go up so far they have a use but a rise of 20 feet thats just lazy

    1. Say that again when your knee goes out or you’re 84 years old. An escalator is far more efficient than an elevator in transporting loads of people who have trouble climbing stairs.

      Those who are worse off take the elevator, those who can walk stairs and don’t should be ashamed of themselves.

  12. I always ADORED the soundstair at the Boston Science Museum, and would gladly take the stairs instead of the elevator if they worked that way.

  13. I’d like very much to know how many people would use the “musical” stairs after six months.
    After it’s no longer a novelty and the users will be deadly bored – and tired – with the cacophony of sounds…
    Please tell me if and when you have news on that.

  14. Would you know whom to talk to about the feasibility and cost of installing piano staircases in a number of medical centers? Many thanks! VW

  15. I know the inventor of musical stairs and the original walking piano. His name is Remo Saraceni and he is an absolute genius.
    He designed these magical items more than twenty years ago and Tom Hanks was the first to dance on walking piano in the movie Big.
    If you want to see with your eyes all the possible applications of the walking piano played with the feet take a look at Remo Saraceni’s channel on youtube.

  16. Love the ST PAUL musical stairs – both new and old. This is a cute video, but seems a little dubious. It doesn’t sound like they used the actual sound that the keyboard was making (where is the escalator sound? did everyone stop talking that day? hmmmmm) But still a nice ad idea.

  17. I know the inventor of the first piano musical stairs and the original walking piano. His name is Remo Saraceni and is an absolute genius.
    He designed these magical items more than twenty years ago and Tom Hanks was the first to dance on walking piano in the movie Big.

    If you want to see with your eyes all the possible applications of the walking piano visit Remo Saraceni’s channel on youtube.

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