Stairs – the answer to post-COVID Building Design?

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Zaha Hadid Moscow Dominion Building


Stairs the answer to post-COVID building design?

There’s currently plenty of debate about what post-COVID offices and building are going to look like. How is fundamental design going to change?

A lot of the talk is about giving workers options and flexibility in their work settings. But how about accessing the tenancy in which they work? How about moving between floors during the day (if it is a multi level tenancy?).

So we’d like to throw our hat in the ring here and make a bold prediction that we are going to see (and walk on) a lot more stairs in the future! I mean, consider the high-rise office you currently work in; what option have you got when you turn up at the lift lobby of a morning? For most people, there’s none. The lift doors open and you either pile in or wait for another less full where you might be able to carry out some form of social distancing. There may be the option of the fire escape in some buildings but generally from experience, they are not great places to be and they are not geared for congenial multi-floor access, especially if you get to your floor and the door is locked!

Lifts, to quote Laura Bliss/ Bloomberg, have been the “enablers of modern-day urbanism”, the facilitator of high-rise building design. Let’s face it, without elevators, most buildings would be fairly short! But come the COVID pandemic, they are not everyone’s favourite place to be.

But hey, what if in the next generation hi-rise building, before you got to the lift doors you had an attractive, well-lit, generously proportioned atrium staircase that gave you a Plan B? Okay, I get it that you are not necessarily going to use this to scale 40 floors every time you come to work or need a sandwich, but it could open up some serious options if an internal stair was available to every single level of a high rise. Let’s explore this – if you are on the lower floors, say 1-6, it is no huge sweat to take the stair, plus think of those calories you’re burning! And if you are the Level 40 guy, what if on level 2 or 3 there was a separate bank of hi-rise lifts, that only ran from Level 2 or 3? Now we start to see how we can change age-old habits, but more than that, open a second path of travel in every high-rise.

While multi-level inter-tenancy stairs are nothing new, let’s start the discussion as to how can we do building design better in the future, how we can make buildings more COVID responsible! Let’s look at how can we upgrade older buildings to improve their amenity in the new-normal of 2020.

Now let’s get your take on this – do you think that stairs have a role to play?

***Note! – the suggestions here are simply that there should be more options made available for building access. In no way should this reduce accessibility to those who need it most and our suggestion is that multiple and increased access options should be provided throughout every building, additional to the provisions already in place! However, if an elevator is the only access to upper floors in a building, then basic accessibility needs are covered but post-COVID, these very elevators are constricting the practical operation of many hi-rise building given maximum persons per lift. We’d love to see this access issue solved creatively, so send your suggestions to to join the coversation!

3XN Uppsala University 

Paul Cocksedge Spirals Living Staircase

UTS Central, Sydney 


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