What would it take to get you to take the stairs more? How about music and a view?

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.

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4 Responses to “What would it take to get you to take the stairs more? How about music and a view?”

  1. SB Says:

    “A small 2.8 percent increase in stair use would cut 300 grams of weight from a typical person, they say”

    Increased activity leads to increased appetite. Why have people forgotten the phrase “work up an appetite”?

  2. Jeff Says:

    As someone currently seated on the third floor of Booth, I appreciated this post! However, I feel that other aspects of Booth demonstrate other places where nudges could be implemented. First, the placement of stairs immediately adjacent to elevators seems to be a bad idea, especially if the elevators are slightly more convenient to get to. On the third floor, I have definitely seen many people walk up to the areas with stairs right next to the elevators, get lazy, and elect the elevator. In addition to the entrances thing that you mention, it might also be useful to make the most convenient transportation route to the major gathering centers (e.g. the cafeteria) be stair dominated.

  3. Monica Says:

    “A small 2.8 percent increase in stair use would cut 300 grams of weight from a typical person, they say”… I think they mean a 2.8 percent decrease in elevator use. Think about it: what is 2.8 percent of zero? Also highly dependent on if you actually use elevators in your daily life.

    Another option would to make the elevators crappier. A couple scary breakdowns and everybody would be taking the stairs. I lived in a building like that once 🙂

  4. Jasmine Kwong Says:

    I’m also on the 3rd floor of Booth (hello, Jeff!) and second how often I take those stairs because it links me to all the places I usually have to go: the Lab on the lower level, the cafeteria and mail room on the first floor, HR, Accounting, and Computing Services on the second floor, and my office on the third.

    Placing the elevators next to the stairs could be a good idea though, for those occasions you intend to take the elevator but see the nudge of the staircase 🙂

    I wonder what would happen if the staircase-use/weight info was posted in the elevators…

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