June 23, 2009
by Murrye Bernard Assoc. AIA LEED AP

(Continued from above)

At the scale of the individual structure, panelists agreed that designers can effectively promote activity through stair design. Victoria Milne, director of creative services for the Department of Design and Construction, believes that stairs should be “prominent, primary, pleasant, and preferred.” A successful exterior stair, according to Charles McKinney, ASLA, chief of design of capital projects for the Department of Parks & Recreation, is the entry to the newly opened High Line, designed by Field Operations with Diller, Scofidio + Renfro. Pedestrians climb an elongated staircase, gaining a new perspective while transitioning from city to park.

Designers can make stairs more accessible and appealing by adhering to optimal dimensions and using interesting, innovative materials. Andrew Dent, vice president of materials research for Material ConneXion, suggested products including fire-resistant glass with embedded LEDs for wayfinding as an option for stair enclosure, and durable, photo-luminescent signage for paving stones to indicate stair location.

An even more straightforward approach to encouraging stair use is the installation of “point of decision prompts,” such as the green signs that suggests taking the stairs to burn calories. According to Nancy Biberman, president of Women’s Housing and Economic Development Corporation, these prompts have been very successful, increasing stair use as much as 67% in one 10-story affordable housing development.

Skip-stop elevators are also a good strategy to encourage stair use in tall buildings; for example, workers in Los Angeles’s Caltrans building by Morphosis are two times more likely to take the stairs, stated Jean Oei, architectural designer at the firm. Also by Morphosis, the new Cooper Union Academic Building in NYC aims for similar success by encouraging interaction between students and faculty in the corridors and stairs that wind through its 11-story atrium.

Active design does have its perceived roadblocks, including ADA Guidelines and clients themselves. While one might expect Matthew Sapolin, commissioner for the Mayor’s Office of People with Disabilities, to be an opponent of active design, he believes that people with disabilities are open to walking or traveling farther if the appropriate programming is in place, such as rest stops or informative signs along a long, low-sloped ramp — an alternative to the traditional ADA ramp with guardrails. Kirsten Sibilia, Assoc. AIA, LEED AP, chief marketing officer for JCJ Architecture, suggested ways that architects can market active design to their clients. They should engage the clients in a dialogue, she recommends; identifying established concepts clients will understand such as Energy Star ratings and LEED certifications, metrics that effectively illustrate the benefits of active design.

While codes in the 19th century focused on fighting infectious disease, posited Karen Lee, MD, MPH, deputy director of the Bureau of Chronic Disease Prevention and Control at the DOHMH, the codes for the 21st century should counteract obesity-related chronic diseases. The panelists concurred that designers must take responsibility for public health by programming activity in and out of buildings. While many people prefer to take the path of least resistance — in this case, the car or the elevator — we must design provocative alternatives.

Murrye Bernard, LEED AP, is a freelance writer and contributing editor to eOculus.


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