The stairs between the upper floors of the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business are made to be used. They are placed smack in the middle of blocks of faculty offices. They zigzag back and forth up open columns, allowing people to see easily between floors. They have plenty of light, are carpeted, and blend into the design of the building. By placing the stairs in a common area (the elevators are a longer walk away) and making them inviting, the architect created a nudge to encourage a smudge of healthier behavior in the work place.
Creating more accessible staircases through public policy and physical architecture is one way to promote an active lifestyle, say Dr. Ishak Mansi of Louisiana State University, and his wife, Nardine Mansi, an architect, in the Southern Medical Journal. A small 2.8 percent increase in stair use would cut 300 grams of weight from a typical person, they say.
So how does one design a building where people actually use the stairs? There are three key features.
1) Fewer turns between the stairs and the closest entrance.
2) Stairs with large surface areas (not too narrow and steep).
3) Create a view, either up, down, or across, from the stairwell. No one wants to walk up a tiny, white box.
The Booth School of Business staircases meet all of these requirements (perhaps it’s no surprise the building won a major design award last year). For those who can’t build new stairwells, there are a few other nudges to try. Displaying motivational signs in the lobby and throughout the building, and playing music in the stairwell can increase stair use. Together, these two nudges can increase usage by as much as 9 percent. Hanging artwork on the stairwell walls, closing elevators occasionally, and offering incentives like fruit are also known to work.
The journal article is gated, but a short news summary is here.