Everyone knows the importance of taking the stairs rather than the elevator, although not everyone does.  There are lots of things that can impact our decision to take the stairs – our fitness levels, how high in the building we may need to go, whether we’re injured or disabled, or even simply our energy levels on any given day.  But does the aesthetic appeal of a staircase ever come into question?  David Burney think so. 

 A Celebration of Stairs

Burney, a New York City Commissioner of the Department of Design and Construction says that we should make the most of the staircases in every building, and by making them aesthetically pleasing, we can encourage more people to climb them[1].  He, perhaps rightly, points out that in trying to make life easier, architects and building planners have also made life sedentary and this, in turn, has made us lose our love of the grand staircases that are so often a focal point in old buildings.  In their place, we see elevator shafts, perhaps with a small sign indicating the way to a drab staircase that is there for necessity alone.   

 Active Design

This is not just a celebration of beautiful stairs though.  In fact, it’s just one step (pun intended) towards a greater public health campaign, aptly named ‘active design’, in which architects are encouraged to re-introduce grand and aesthetically pleasing staircases.  New York City’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, similarly, have put posters in over 1,000 buildings with the aim of encouraging people to take the stairs.  Aimed to play on people’s guilt (and perhaps a little vanity too), they are splashed with slogans like “Burn Calories, Not Electricity.  Take the Stairs!”  There’s more too.  A selection of New York City agencies worked together to create the Active Design Guidelines for architects that aim to promote healthy and active lifestyles.  Guidelines are not limited to stair design either, but suggest the importance of designing large open spaces in which people can move about, introducing farmer’s markets, and including physical activity places within commercial work places[2]

 Beat Obesity: Take the Stairs

All this is certainly a noble cause but will it work?  Stair climbing is already known for its excellent health-promoting properties.  Dr. Karen Lee, advisor for the World Health Organization, argues that it “burns more calories per minute than jogging”[3] and cites a study that demonstrates just how fantastic it could be.  Of 10,000 studied, those who climbed between 20 and 34 sets of stairs per week were a massive 29% less likely to suffer from a stroke, regardless of their levels of other exercise.  It’s difficult to argue with results like these, and it is easy to see why NYC is so keen to implement policies that could potentially encourage increased stair-climbing but that still doesn’t answer the question – will it work? 

 We’ve got to laud any attempt to get more people moving and to improve the health and fitness of the general populous.  If we’re ever to combat the increasingly sedentary lifestyles we’ve created for ourselves, active design should most definitely become part of any new build.  But will a grander staircase really help?  If you are not already swayed by the importance of health, and if you are not already inclined to take the stairs, be it because you are lazy or tired or injured, it seems unlikely that a pretty staircase would entice.  After all, the lazy are not lazy merely because of dull gray paint and concrete steps.  That said, if this scheme encourages just a few people to improve their lives through an active lifestyle, it’s surely got to be worth it, and who knows - maybe one day, choosing to take the stairs instead of automatically looking for an elevator will become second nature to us – just as it surely once was. 


[1]{C} Cited by Lichtman, One Step to Combat Obesity: Make Stairs More Attractive, [online], available at: http://www.npr.org/blogs/health/2014/08/04/337126235/one-step-to-combat-obesity-make-stairs-more-attractive?utm_campaign=storyshare&utm_source=twitter.com&utm_medium=social, accessed 09/17/2014

[2]{C} NYC Departments and City Planning, Health & Mental Hygiene, and Design & Construction, Active Design Guidelines, [online], available at: http://www.nyc.gov/html/ddc/html/design/active_design.shtml, accessed 09/17/2014

[3]{C} Cited by Lichtman, op cit.

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OBESITY AND THE IMPORTANCE OF BEAUTIFUL STAIRCASES by UrbanSculpt Staff Writer Victoria Froud, MA is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
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