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Designing an Irresistible Staircase So You'll Forget the Elevator

We first wrote about Seattle's Bullitt Center, dubbed the world's greenest office building, in January, while it was still under construction. Now that it's complete, one of its many sustainable features is about to be put to the test: the "irresistible stairway." Along with solar panels, rainwater collection, and zero waste, the building's designers wanted to help make sure people working inside used the elevator as little as possible—both to save energy and to help keep employees healthier.

The wide wooden stairway is encased in glass, so it's full of light and offers panoramic views of the city. Elevators, by contrast, were designed to be less convenient, and require a key card for use.

We all know taking the stairs is healthy (one recent study even suggested that frequent trips on the stairs can keep you just as fit as going to the gym), but how often do you choose the elevator instead? In many office buildings, staircases are bleak, windowless, even prison-like, and seem intended only for use in emergencies. It wouldn't be surprising that better design could help.

Whether this can apply to a high-rise in Manhattan is another question; the Bullitt Center is only six stories high, and it's harder to imagine someone taking the stairs to the 26th floor. But maybe skyscrapers could encourage stair-climbing for the first 10 stories or so. Other architects can watch what happens with the Bullitt Center and learn.

Image courtesy of the Bullitt Foundation

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