The Design of Stairs By Dressler Society often does not understand just how much the design of stairs and staircases impact our lives. For a moment, imagine a world without them. How would people move to the top of a two story house? Could ramps be implemented instead? Ramps offer a smooth incline from one elevation to the next, but this has several disadvantages. For one, for those who are physically weak, it is difficult to control one’s inertia when going down a steep ramp; the speed builds up and the individual is too weak to stop themselves. The result is a potentially tragic fall. No, steep ramps are too dangerous to ever take the place of stairs. Why not use a long, extended ramp then? Long ramps cost more and take up a great deal more room. Note that they also take a great deal of time to use as well in comparison. So, although long ramps are much safer, they are far less efficient uses of space and money compared to steep ramps and stairs. What about elevators? Elevators, although sophisticated and easier to use in comparison to the means previously mentioned, it is their complexity that is their doom. Elevators are simply unreliable. In power outages, elevators simply stop - rendering them useless and potentially even hazardous to any unfortunates who may be stuck inside. This is also the reason why during a fire, elevators are dangerous to use. Elevators are too complex to be the staple for transportation from floor to floor. This is why every floor has a staircase. Although seemingly trivial, the design of the staircase itself can have a large impact on those who use them. Imagine for a second if stairs were simply too large. Moving from one stair to the next would be a great burden, requiring all of one’s strength and hence scare people with the exhausting amount of energy required to climb them in succession. Not only would they be exhausting, but climbing down them would be dangerous to any ill-suited to taking large steps, such as an elderly individual or a toddler. Imagine instead if stairs too small. Anyone who has taken calculus knows that infinitely small stairs would result in a ramp, so where do designers draw the line for the size of a stair? Making them fist-sized would make them too cumbersome to use. Stair climbers would stutter-stepping from one tiny stair to the next. Perhaps even the heel or toe hangs over the edge and frequently results in slipping. Stairs are just big enough to comfortably match the size of the ordinary person’s foot, so as to maximize contact (friction) between the person’s foot and the solid surface. On the other hand, stairs are also just small enough so that stepping from one to the next is not too exhausting or cumbersome. In fact, most can say they develop a natural rhythm of motion when climbing up a staircase. This is undoubtedly intentional, as it makes stairs easy and natural to use. Unless someone can come up with a simpler, more efficient, and natural way to allow people to move from one story of a building to the next, stairs are here to stay. They have existed in for thousands of years, and it appears they will be around for thousands of years to come.