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Pythagoras Stairs, Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children, London

Pythagoras Stairs, 2021

Permanent Installation I Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children, London


Pythagoras Stairs is a site-specific sound installation, commissioned by the Great Ormond Street Hospital, composed of fully-functioning suspended organ pipes, which cascade through the central space of the spiral stairwell like a minimalist ‘acoustic chandelier'.

The pipes were chosen for their specific harmonies, to resound gently with each other using Pythagorean harmonics. The chosen notes were identified by the ancient Greek philosopher for their therapeutic qualities. In every sequence therefore, the sounds produce chords which are calming, healing and sensitive to the hospital environment and to the needs of the patients and staff.


Integrated into the space at all levels, the largest and lowest pipes are toward the bottom of the stairs, with the pipes becoming progressively smaller in size and higher in pitch towards the upper floors. The work is responsive to and interacts with the patients, families and staff who use the space everyday. Their movement through the space are detected by sensors, which trigger the gentle activation of the pipes as they climb and descend the staircase. The harmonics gently rise and fall in response to their movements; and the piece falls silent when no-one is in the space. 

Soft lighting, a muted metal finish and the soothing and calming sounds of the quietly resounding pipes supports the hospital’s function as a place of healing and the piece is also calming for patients with visual and/or auditory impairment.

As well as being a subtle and stimulating permanent installation, the work can be activated by groups and potentially used as a basis for performances; since the staircase can be ‘played’ by the movement of the visitors. 

'The Sight and Sound Centre is world renowned - the senses are being isolated and with this focus we have to question our perception through those senses. I wanted to make a work which would be appreciated by people with lesser or greater abilities to see and hear. If you cannot see well, you can hear your movement through the space and appreciate the work acoustically. And if you cannot hear well, you can feel the air vibrating in front of the openings of the organ pipe. And it can be appreciated sculpturally.' Oliver Beer

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