15 June 2009

On Building Nicer Staircases

As reported in the Times, Ishak Mansi, a doctor at the Louisiana State University School of Medicine has written an article with some colleages proposing that stairs be made more pleasant -- and not hidden away in the corners of buildings -- to encourage people to use them more often and get a little more exercise.

I'm having one of those "why didn't I think of that?" moments. I'm impatient with elevators and escalators (to say the least), and I don't know how many times I've been forced to take one or the other because I can't find the staircase in a building.

Older buildings have wide, open, well-lit, central, and often dramatic staircases opening right off the main lobby. Think Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York Public Library, British Museum. The British Library, in a new building, has a nice broad staircase to the second floor (the first floor, if anyone is reading this from the UK).

Then there's 666 Fifth Avenue, where I worked for a few years in the late 80s. I once shared an elevator for a few seconds with Jackie Kennedy Onassis, because the company I worked for occupied three (contiguous) floors, and you could only get from one to another by taking the elevator. Made me nuts.

The NYU Library has stairs, dramatic ones, that ascend next to the interior atrium. But if you're on the ground floor, you have to know the sneaky route through the reference area and around a study area on the second floor in order to reach the upper floors.

Is it a cultural difference? Are European buildings more likely than American ones to have open, pleasant staircases that are easy to find?