What options or obligations does the built environment present? Do the presence of stairs obligate a building’s users to use them instead of an energy-sucking elevator? How do we make obvious the ‘correct’ choice—how do we shape users’ actions? Older buildings have vast, sweeping, sun-lit staircases that see heavy use. The contemporary buildings I’ve lived in make it clear that they see stairwells as anachronism, a legal oddity, something to be built for evacuation purposes. The form and style of stairs reflect this; I spent the better part of a year shuttling up and down a poured-concrete stairwell with fluorescent lighting, hidden behind evacuation doors in the core of the building.

Despite the building’s opinion that stairs were outmoded, and that the door to the stairs was directly across from the elevator, the elevator saw little use. It was too slow. Is there value in purposefully handicapping technology so as to encourage the use of low-energy low-tech?

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