Thursday, 16 June 2011

A moment to think about stairs...

However basic the functionality of stairs are you can’t deny that they contribute to the atmosphere of grandeur that surrounds some of our most recognisable and historic buildings.

Natural History Museum. London.

However in recent years staircases in public spaces have taken on a decidedly more humble role. Disability Laws have contributed to them being erased from the front of buildings to (quite rightly) ensure the buildings accessibility to all. Inside they are often pushed to the back of the ground floor to allow space for escalators or lifts to whisk people up to higher levels. They have become a safety measure and in many buildings in Central Business Districts are inaccessible for day to day use due to security restrictions. 

However the tide is turning. In New York City, prompted by the growing number of residents with obesity, diabetes and heart disease the city’s Department for Design and Constructions (DDC) has joined forces with City Planning, Health and Mental Hygiene and Transportation Departments to tackle the cities health problems - through design.

The objective is to create a greater opportunity for daily physical activity.  With much of the population spending up to 90% of their time indoors the emphasis is on adapting buildings. As stair use is one of the most accessible means for large portions of the NYC population to integrate physical activity into their daily lives the Stair is finally in the spotlight again.

The Guidelines outlined by the DDC focus on location and visibility, dimensions, creating an attractive environment and placing signs prompting people to use the stairs instead of lazier alternatives.

In the case of tall buildings in particular there is a need for an integrated vertical circulation system that includes the use of all vertical transport focusing on sustainable design as well as economical use of space for the building. Stairs can be included into sky lobbies at intervals throughout the building or where two floors share the same function (i.e let by one company where there is likely to be increased inter-floor traffic.)

Having engaged with Architects and Designers for the projects there is an obvious emphasis on aesthetics and some designs included platform breaks between ascending stairs with art installations and music integrated in the design to lure traffic towards the stairs as well as keep people engaged on their upward journey.

So for New Yorkers at least the days of dingily lit staircases at the back of a building are fast becoming a thing of the past and it would surely be a good thing for all of our hearts and minds alike if other cities were to follow suit.

If you’ve been inspired to reconsider your stairs take a look at the following website. Stair Porn has many inviting images of commercial and residential stairs that will leave you brimming with ideas.