May 29, 2014

When you design a project, you create a lot of assumptions (and perhaps some fantasies) how a space will be used.  After real people are doing their real thing in our buildings, we like to go back and test some of these assumptions.  At Berks County Community Foundation, one of the client goals was to encourage healthy lifestyles through the use of stairs, and creating a feeling of connectivity between floors.  This also synced up nicely with their energy saving goals because elevators use a significant amount of energy.  For a digestible primer on that issue, check out this article. In terms of design, this meant locating the stairs to be more prominent than the tucked away elevator, filling the stairwell with light (like moths, we all go to the light, right?), and detailing them to be visually interesting.  According to the Foundation, EVERYBODY raves about Coney Island boardwalk treads.  But are they USING the stairs?  That’s what we wanted to know.  After a couple of years in operations, here is the report back from BCCF President Kevin Murphy on the stair experiment:

“The stairs are used A LOT by second floor employees (at least those without knee problems).   A little less by third floor, but still, I’d say most transit is by stairs.  We put the third floor people in parking that encourages them to use the front door, meaning they only have to climb two flights, not three.  Three seems to be more than people will generally do.”

So, in our sample size of one (n = 1 for our nerdly readers), ‘typical’ adults will use a well-designed stair to climb two floors in their office building…three starts to push it.

Learn more about Berks County Community Foundation