Built to meet the rigorous environmental standards of the The Living Building Challenge certification program, Seattle’s newest carbon neutral office space, the Bullitt Center, has been designed and outfitted with all of the latest efficiency and environmentally sustainable innovations. Through enhancements like solar panel arrays, rainwater collection systems, and composting toilets the building can produce all of its own electricity, collect enough water to meet its needs, and produce almost no waste. But one of the more notable initiatives attempts to both conserve energy and improve health happens not through technology, but through social engineering and compelling design.
One of the Bullitt Center’s key features is what has been dubbed the ‘irresistible stairway’. Utilizing a glass encased, open design concept, these tempting steps coax employees and visitors of the building by bathing the area with natural light and offering panoramic views of downtown Seattle and Puget Sound.
Billed as the ‘World’s Greenest Building’, the developers of the 50,000 sq ft facility in the Capital Hill neighborhood hope that this initiative will contribute considerably to energy reductions from decreased elevator use while additionally offering improvements in overall health. Aside from making the stairs more desirable, the Bullitt Center tries to further encourage their use by requiring key card entry in all of the elevators and placing them in less convenient locations.
Although most people are acutely aware of the benefits of using stairs throughout the day, traditionally few office buildings actually did anything to encourage it, and in fact many effectively hinder it by making stairs all but inaccessible except in times of emergency.
The Bullitt Center’s concern with this issue and their overall attention to design and sustainability as a commercially viable model is part of a larger trend. A renewed focus on incorporating office enhancements as a means of not only boosting morale and improving employee wellbeing, but in the long run increasing productivity.
This initiative, however, does raise the question as to whether something like design actually has a long term affect in changing prevailing behaviors. Similar concepts to encourage stair use have been employed in the past in China and Sweden where ordinary steps were converted into functioning piano keys. The concept showed incredible initial results of as much as a 66% increase in stair use, the what happens farther down the road when the novelty wears off and something like piano stairs become old-hat? Slated to open, appropriately enough, on Earth Day, April 22nd, it still remains to be seen exactly how effective the design of the irresistible stairway will be.
Luckily the Bullitt Center should ultimately be able to shed some light on this. Surpassing the requirements of LEEDs certification, The Living Building Challenge program will closely monitor various elements of The Bullitt Center before offering full certification. Over the first year of its operation one particular study will focus on changes in the tenant behaviors, including stair use. This should offer additional insight as to whether any increases are purely the result of novelty or if the consideration placed on design can actually offer sustained long term changes.