Who hid the stairs?

August 26, 2015

I’ve never understood why so many people default to taking the lift. I’ve worked with dozens of people who pay good money to go to the gym, and then take the lift when they get to the office. There’s some free exercise right there waiting for them, but for some reason they would rather stand around waiting for a metal box where they can stand around making awkward small talk and bad jokes about the maximum number of people who fit in the lift. And don’t get me started on people who take the lift for one floor

Perhaps architects are partly to blame - in a lot of buildings, the stairs are hidden away in an unloved part of the building, undecorated and without windows, only there for use in emergency. Hotels tend to be particularly bad for this. Especially when the lifts are busy with people going up and down to breakfast, I’d much rather take the stairs, but they’re almost always hidden behind doors with forbidding signs on, warning about triggering alarms. Besides, half the time they don’t even get you to the lobby, instead forcing you down and down to the emergency exits.

Maybe stairs are class signifiers, as in Upstairs Downstairs and Downton Abbey, reserved for menial workers, and high-status folk like hotel guests should stay away from them. In the same way that having a tan was once looked down on as a sign of being a low-status outdoor worker, perhaps there’s some sense that escalators and elevators are signs of our technological progress, and taking the stairs is a failure to be modern.

Maybe it’s just about the kind of architects who design office buildings and corporate hotels, churning out cookie-cutter designs. Plenty of buildings have grand staircases, but perhaps they’re something from a bygone age, but hopefully stairs are making a comeback.