Cedar Falls is among the most beautiful of Ohio's waterfalls, with its unique and graceful keyhole shape shimmering against a sculpted face of weathered sandstone. What could be a more daunting task than to create a functional work of art that could complement such natural grace?
Akio Hizume, artist, architect and mathematician, accomplished such a feat in the fall of 1997. Drawing from his love of nature and expertise in the relationships among numbers and dimensions, Akio designed a staircase descending gently down the hillside leading from the parking lot to Cedar Falls.
Akio set out to create a serpentine walkway that feels as graceful as it looks. His goal was to make the act of ascending or descending the nearly 100 steps pleasant and relaxing, not the tiresome chore of climbing up or down the typical set of uniform, periodic stairs. The lengths of individual steps are varied so that walkers alternate the leading foot, establishing a comfortable pace and rhythm. Though it seems like second nature, Akio carefully and deliberately planned the walking rhythm. It reflects mathematical principles of the Fibonacci sequence and the one-dimensional Penrose lattice.
The steps were constructed from recycled material and were designed to allow for proper drainage to avoid the steps washing out. Because of this, the steps look very much the same today as when installed.
Akio entitled his creation Democracy Steps for Cedar Falls 1997. The steps are democratic in the sense that they are designed for the ease of all walkers, including children. They also democratize art and culture by bringing a sophisticated work to a public place, where it can be enjoyed by a wide audience.
Generations of visitors who take the Democracy Steps for Cedar Falls will tune in to the natural rhythm that combines the precise disciplines of mathematics and architecture with the deep sensitivity and humanity of the arts.