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A spiral legacy

The AGO’s iconic, Frank Gehry-designed spiral staircase is one of the most distinctive architectural features in Toronto.

the exposed steel of a spiral staircase under construction is visible with workers

Image by the AGO.

Among the most distinctive architectural features in Toronto is the AGO’s iconic, Frank Gehry-designed Allan Slaight and Emmanuelle Gattuso Spiral Staircase. Gracefully overlooking the Gallery’s central Walker Court, the staircase has provided a dramatic focal point for countless performances, tours, events and everyday visits.

It was named for Allan Slaight and Emmanuelle Gattuso in recognition of their extraordinary support of the Transformation AGO campaign. Slaight, a longtime friend of the AGO, passed away earlier this week. 

View of a wooden spiral staircase reaching up and going through a glass ceiling.

Image by the AGO. 

The Douglas fir-clad sculptural staircase rises from Level 2 through the glass ceiling and extends to Level 5 of the Vivian & David Campbell Centre for Contemporary Art. It was one of the final architectural elements to be completed in the $276 million transformation of the AGO in 2008.

In designing the signature staircase, Gehry wanted to create an experience for visitors by connecting the Gallery internally and externally. It links the past and the present by connecting the original 1920s building with the new building, extended by Gehry in 2008, bringing together the classic and contemporary spaces. The staircase lets you see the Gallery from different vantage points, and once you climb the 138 steps to the top you’ll enjoy an exceptional view of the city.

Spiral staircase in Walker Court

Gehry – evidently a romantic at heart – designed the staircase to be narrow at some points to create a space where people might bump into each other or perhaps fall in love. Although we haven’t heard of any staircase romances (yet), it is a photo shoot favourite for couples who get married at the AGO.

In addition to his many achievements and contributions, Allan Slaight will be remembered for his generosity alongside Emmannuelle Gattuso in helping the revitalized AGO – and Toronto – reach new architectural heights.

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