|During the pandemic, elevators are a big challenge — they’re indoor spaces where physical distancing is often impossible. COVID-19 guidelines limiting the number of people in an elevator have led to long lineups and waits in highrises and office towers, causing problems for workers returning to their offices, prohibiting some from coming back at all and even keeping some children from going to school.
They’re much bigger spaces and less prone to crowding, where people largely stay apart because they’re generally going in the same direction (or only briefly passing someone going the other way). As with other kinds of active transportation that have increased in popularity during the pandemic (such as walking and cycling), there’s also an environmental benefit. Using the stairs can reduce the costs and energy use from elevators — which can come from fossil fuel sources — and could even eliminate the need for so many elevators, resulting in even bigger energy savings. Plus, the exercise has health benefits, such as the potential to lower the risk of heart disease and stroke.
That’s why „active design” to encourage stair use has garnered interest from architects such as Gayle Nicoll, a professor at the Ontario College of Art and Design in Toronto. In practice, the stairs in many modern buildings are hard to find, don’t necessarily provide access to the floors you want to reach, may trigger an emergency alarm if you exit from them — and, frankly, are often unpleasant (e.g. messy and poorly lit). Nicoll said that has to do with stairs having become specialized for emergency use, as elevators became „more front and centre” with the rise of very tall buildings, as well as accessibility laws and a realization on the part of landlords that minimizing stairs could leave them with more space to rent out.
But she said there are some things building owners can do to make stairs usable and to take some pressure off elevators. This includes making stairs more visible, possibly with a sign near the elevator to show people where they are, and reminding people to let those with mobility challenges use the elevator first. She also suggests that companies in multi-storey buildings allow employees to use the stairs to visit employees on other floors. That may mean equipping doors with card readers for security.