Want to Get Healthier? Look at Your Building's Design

Want to Get Healthier? Look at Your Building's Design

Jennifer Hunter
Aug 1, 2014
(Image credit: Ashley Poskin)

Our daily dilemma: stairs or elevator? Seems like it's not a fair fight, right? After all, how can trudging up the dark, depressing concrete stairwell hidden in the back of a building compare to a front-and-center elevator bank waiting to whisk you to your floor? It can't. So how to tempt more people into taking the stairs? As usual, it all comes down to design.

This fascinating article over at Co.Design makes some great points about the potential impact of active design. Take their example of the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. Researchers there recently made some observations about stair usage in various buildings on their own campus. As you might guess, the Stokely Management Center building, which has a centrally-located elevator bank but an enclosed staircase, set out of sight behind a steel door, has drastically lower stair usage than the Art and Architecture building, which has a central, wide staircase.

But the real test comes when they observe a third building — the law school —which has both a prominant elevator and a well-appointed staircase. The research found that "despite the easy access to elevators, 81% of people chose to walk up and 94% to walk down."

So all things being equal, people will choose the stairs. It's elevator-centric design that leads them to choose otherwise.

Another fascinating (and new to me) efficient and activity-promoting concept is that of the skip-stop elevator. What is it? Exactly what it sounds like. It's a semi-express elevator that stops only every third floor. It's faster, but tw0-thirds of passengers have to walk up or down a flight or two to reach their desired floor.

Architects Gayle Nicoll and Craig Zimring recently studied Los Angeles' Caltrans building which has two elevator banks, one is a skip-stop and the other is a standard elevator. They measured the traffic in each of these elevators to determine if employees would take the faster elevator, even if it meant they had to hoof it. And guess what? During the 24-week research period, 33 times as many employees used the skip-stop elevator. Not 33% more, 33 times as many! There were 3,750 rides on the traditional elevator and a whopping 117,619 rides on the skip-stop.

It turns out, some key changes to the designs of our buildings could lead to us to happily make the healthier, more aerobically effective choice. It probably won't beat a visit to the gym, but if, as we're so often told, healthy habits add up, sounds like we could easily start with the stairs, no sweat.

Related: Check out these musical stairs!

Read more at Co.Design

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