Architecture Can Make Us Fit

In most buildings the elevators lobbies are nice while the stairs are often little more than concrete block and terrible lighting at the end of the hall, certainly not designed to be enticing. Often they are not even usable without setting off the fire alarms. Essentially the architecture is making us fat.

Bruce Fowle tries to design buildings that make us fit. It is not easy. "I had no idea until recently how many regulatory agencies are working against the notion of fitness in buildings," the architect tells Metropolis. "We had to put elevators big enough for a stretcher in the middle of a private school where, if you are injured, ten friends will carry you. So now students take the elevators one floor."

In the New York Times Building, designed with Renzo Piano, he put the fire stairs in the corners where the top execs usually go, made them big enough to hold a meeting, and encased them in glass.


To get people moving at SAP's horizontal campus, Fowle spread out the elevators, gave the stairs pride of place (above), and located the cafeteria centrally, so it would feel like a town square. Photo: Jeff Goldberg/Esto

There are lots of good reasons to build this way. It saves the energy running all those elevators and escalators, and as public health scholar Richard Jackson told Metropolis, limbing a flight of stairs every day for a year can burn a pound's worth of calories. Moreover, it promotes mus­cle strength and balance, which help people manage the effects of aging. "You need to build stairways the way we did classically, as places of beauty," Jackson says. ::Metropolis


In Tom Mayne`s San Francisco Federal Building, most elevators stop only at every third floor. SFGate writes that the goal is to improve workers' health by nudging them to use stairways - and also create crossroads where employees run into each other, since each three-story segment includes a lobby with art and a viewing platform aimed toward the bay. There is a handicap-accessible elevator that stops on every floor. Some are complaining that they cannot get into the elevator because it is always crowded by lazy sorts who refuse to take the stairs.

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