How to do Stairs Right

Last year, I argued that we’re designing buildings that promote obesity. The problem is that our buildings fail to encourage physical activity — specifically taking the stairs — even when it would be easy to do so. More specifically, the problem is that so many buildings tuck their stairs out of sight while making elevators very prominent. It wastes energy and it eliminates the opportunity for little bursts of activity.

When I wrote that post, one of my examples was Provo’s Fourth District Courthouse in downtown. In that building, the elevators are the obvious choice, while the stairs are kind of hard to find.

But a few days ago I visited West Jordan’s courthouse and was surprised to see a good example of stairs featured prominently in the front of the building:

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The entryway of the West Jordan courthouse.

In this picture, the front door of the building is to the right by the windows. The elevators are behind the stairs. That means visitors see the stairs first and are never in doubt about their location or availability. In other words, the architects have designed the building to prioritize stair usage; the structure literally communicates more effectively to its audience.

Not coincidentally, while I was in this building the stairs were used at least as often as the elevators.

Stairs and better-designed buildings aren’t going to completely solve the obesity epidemic. But they will help in some small way. And in the end, this is perhaps how we should approach much of our urban design: by slowly fixing the spaces that discourage any kind of physical activity.

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