When passersby point at the Vlooybergtoren in the town of Tielt-Winge, Belgium and say, “Lookout,” it’s not because the large metal staircase is about to fall—even though it looks like it should.
The Vlooybergtoren, built in 2015, replaces a wooden lookout tower that was, for many years, a favorite place to climb up and take in the view in town. Vandals set the former tower on fire, so when the Vlooybergtoren was commissioned, the conditions were that it had to be made of metal and vandal-proof. The perplexing, seemingly gravity-defying nature of its design is just icing on the cake.
Designed by the Belgian engineering firm Close to Bone, the top platform of the staircase tower offers a view of the stunning landscape, including nearby Kabouterbos (“Fairy Tale Forest”). It has been called both the “stairway to nowhere” and the “stairway to heaven.” The structure weighs 13 tons and the top platform is 33 feet (10 meters) off the ground with nothing supporting it. Only the bottom platform makes any contact with the ground. Most who visit it wonder how this is possible.
That would be because the bottom portion of the tower is very heavy and very strong. From there, the railing walls, functioning as light but sturdy structural beams intended to resist forces acting on the structure, including gravity, and keep it stable, extend out and into the air. They prevent the peculiar structure from dangerously sagging or tipping.
Two vibration dampeners keep the Vlooybergtoren from shaking due to foot traffic up and down the stairs, or strong winds. The steel of the walls is galvanized to prevent corrosion and covered with weathering steel to protect it from the elements. It has the same rusty color as local ironstone, a deliberate reference that does not indicate that the metal is in danger of falling apart. Or, despite all appearances, falling over.
Update July 2018: The tower has recently been damaged by an explosion caused by vandals. The base structure wasn’t damaged, so city council is looking to improve the tower. There are plans to make it even higher, and it’s said they may construct a new tower somewhere in 2019.