Stairs: The Unifying Element

June 11, 2014

By Phillip Lopez

I often hope to do more than simply create buildings that are new, functional, and aesthetically pleasing. I believe that I can also influence human behavior and attitudes through thoughtful architecture. Recently, I've been studying and understanding the notion of designing office environments that encourage employee health, productivity, and collaboration. One area of focus has been designing around the stair instead of the elevator.

For many reasons, companies sometimes require their staff to be separated on two different floors and complain about the division it creates and lack of personal connectivity between staff. A stair can serve as the unifying element that allows people to freely and quickly walk up and down to connect better with their co-workers as they would if they were located on the same floor. The problem, or opportunity, is how can architecture begin to persuade people to use the stairs more often. After all, choosing the stairs over an elevator promotes better employee health, saves energy, and usually saves time.

I found several academic studies that suggest if buildings are designed right, people will choose to take the stairs as much as 10 times as often when compared to those using a conventional building. In order to achieve this, a stair should be more than vertical circulation. Buildings aimed at promoting the use of the stair, should limit the maximum number of stories that they connect. Walking up more than 3 stories can be strenuous and time consuming enough that one would prefer to take the elevator. The stairs should also be located centrally for ease of access for employees and elevators should be located where they are less convenient than the stairs.

Here is where the fun part begins:

Make it sexy. A stair should encourage use by drawing our attention towards it and begging us to engage its beauty and composition in space. With a delicate balance of craft, materiality, light and shadow, and integrated use, a stair can leave the elevator feeling like a pretty lonely place to be and no doubt leave a lasting memory on our minds.


Phillip Lopez


Senior Associate