Thursday, March 1, 2012

Musical stairs: we could all use a little childlike wonder

If you’re lazy like me, having to go up and down the stairs can get really annoying. If I had to choose between taking the elevator up or the stairs, I’d choose the elevator every time if I wasn’t worried about all of the judgmental looks I’d get when I pressed the button to the measly third floor. I know I’m not alone in this. But what if there was a way to make taking the stairs more fun?

In an effort to encourage people to take the healthy climb up the stairs, many stairways in subway stations, museums, and other buildings all over the world have been reengineered into giant inclined keyboards. These innovative “piano stairs,” created from the mind of the inventor Remo Saraceni, have the potential to make a difference in the health of thousands of people by encouraging healthier choices, such as taking the stairs. Though climbing a couple steps may seem like an insignificant in leading a healthier lifestyle, as Saraceni says, “Every little bit helps.”

Obviously, individuals need to do more than just take the stairs in order to get into better shape, like eat healthier and exercise more, but this is certainly a step in the right direction. These musical flights of stairs have already shown to motivate more people to choose the stairs. In a study done in a Stockholm train station, researchers found that 66% more people took the stairs rather than the escalator when the piano stair made it fun to do.

Saraceni, an artist, engineer, and designer, hopes that his invention can also bring happiness to people and transform any area into a playground where even adults can return to their childhood innocence. When creating the piano stairs, children are his muses. Saraceni believes the lack of playfulness in adults’ lives, which is why he creates things that appeals to children in the hope it can encourage the adults to be as lively. Letting your inner child take over occasionally is fundamentally important to leading a happy life, Saraceni believes. Just because their childhoods are over, doesn’t mean playtime has to ever end. Regardless of how difficult life gets, Saraceni hopes that adults never get too disenchanted with life and that’s why he creates gadgets, such as the piano stairs, that are fun for all ages. “You go onto the piano and you smile,” Saraceni said about his Walking Pianos. “The person who is near sees you smiling and sees you walking about (and then) smiles, too. Create a social interaction… amuse yourself no matter how difficult life is.”

The piano stairs are a modification of the Walking Piano he invented over thirty years ago and that was shown in the movie Big, starring Tom Hanks.

Not only is Saraceni’s creation novel, but it is also useful in that it promotes physical activity. It may help solve the prevalent problem of inactivity and obesity. Saraceni managed to take the piano, a conventional instrument invented centuries ago, and found an additional use for it that has never been used before. By taking a typically five-feet long instrument and blowing it up to a than twenty-feet walking platform, Saraceni creates a space for people to let themselves go, have a blast, and foster creativity as individuals can even make their own music by choosing which notes to step on. “I wanted to take the piano… and remove all its seriousness and austerity and make it an instrument that you can walk across,” Saraceni said. “I wanted to make technology playful and utilitarian at the same time. I really believe that machines are here to help us to be more creative because they extend our possibilities.”

Saraceni sees the world with childlike wonder. And unlike some of the creatives we’ve seen, he seems to be a very humble human being. Though he is probably appreciative of the acclaim and attention, he’s motivated by something more. Not only does he sincerely love what he does, like other artists such as Picasso, but also he is delighted when he gets to see kids and grown-ups enjoying his Walking Piano or the other toys he’s created.

Dedicating almost every aspect of his life to creating new technological gadgets, Saraceni works, invents, lives, and sleeps in a toy-heaven loft, which he’s transformed into a childlike wonderland filled with musical trinkets and furniture, flashing lights, and dancing toys, all of which he has personally created. Though this kind of lifestyle may keep the creative juices flowing, it certainly can put a strain on personal relationships when the creative process is prioritized above all else, even one’s family. Saraceni, now divorced, is like many other creative individuals, such as Mahatma Gandhi and Frank Gehry, who seem to be more passionate about their work than their romantic partner. Gandhi, for example, though loving and kind to almost everyone he encountered, was very cold with his wife and sons. Gehry would speak with more love about his buildings than his own children. When the family of these creative individuals is always second-place to innovation, it is easy to imagine why so many marriages involving great creatives end in divorce.

This single-minded pursuit of individuals such as Gandhi, Gehry, and even Saraceni’s on their respective works, though requiring sacrifices in their personal lives, certainly helps make the world a better, more beautiful, and a more magical place.


  1. This reminded me a lot of how many working adults are turning to recreational activities typically reserved for kids (i.e. dodgeball leagues, taking art classes, maybe even taking classes of any kind). It's kind of like an opposite version of "Big."

    Here's a piece from NPR about a book written on just this topic:

  2. What I really enjoy about the invention of the Piano Stairs is that they promote creativity through their use by allowing individuals to collaborate to produce music in a creative way. This method of promoting fitness also promotes the notion that play can be used to make something creative not only for Saraceni, but for the people that use the stairs. I think it is pretty amazing that a creative product can also inspire creativity in the people that use it.

  3. Adding stairs to your daily routine can help promote a healthy lifestyle, but I also thing having fun can have a similar healthy effect. For this reason, I really think the piano stairs are onto something for making the little things in life just a little more enjoyable.
    Sarceni sounds like quite the creative, essentially turning his entire home into his work. I find the logistics of such a creation as the piano stairs fascinating.
    I hope maybe we will see these piano stairs in Chicago someday. I found one Facebook group that is already starting the campaign for their arrival (
    After showing this blog post to my five roommates, I think the page may just get five more "likes" tonight.


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