By Maimun Mustafa
Long past are the days when the stairway was merely a necessity commodity to navigating through floors. Rather a holistic prioritization of re-conceptualized stairways are required for sustainable and safe buildings in Bangladesh.
In the age of ever increasing buildings, accessibility as well as astute design become quintessential when factoring stairs into the building plan. Furthermore, with increasing concentration of people in elevated spaces, security and safety should become a construction company’s key focus in light of unforeseen hazards.
The Long Climb
With rapid urbanization on the rise, apartment complexes, universities, shopping malls and other commercial spaces reach for the sky when the ground becomes scarce. The primary problem with such construction is that it becomes dependent on elevators functioning seamlessly given they are adequate in number in the first place. Floor rotations, complete shutdowns and other inefficiencies cause woes for the common user. The solution would of course be to climb 8-14 floors if one were to reach a meeting or a class on time. However, we must question whether our stair designs are accessible and friendly for all especially elder people, those in pregnancy and the physically ill?
Stairway to Hell
With the recent rude awakenings from fire hazards in Bangladesh, the role of stairwells has become increasingly relevant. Firstly, individuals are advised to not use elevators during evacuations. Therefore, a huge bulk of people concentrate into a small stairway. Given the panic, and the height from which people on higher floors have to descend, the scenario is a recipe for disaster. These stairways also do not have adequate sprinkler systems or well-maintained fire extinguishers. Additionally, the concept of emergency exits is virtually nonexistent in the country. Fire exits hardly find their way into construction designs. The stairway system is a transportation pathway for smooth entry or exit especially in light of emergencies. Under current building designs the component for well-functioning system is dangerously low, leaving the door open for major catastrophes to occur.
Disabling the Disabled
An important issue to note is stairwells being disability friendly. We hardly have ramps for access to restaurants and it can only be imagined how difficult it is for individuals who have difficulty with movement to access regular stairs. Concepts for allowing disability friendly seats or special ramps should be prioritized.
After a multistoried building is constructed it is very difficult to change the core architectural design. Hence to make stairways more modern, safe, easy and accessible, the planning of our buildings need to change from inception. Moreover, we need to look into the future by encompassing the growing needs of different groups of people and assume worst case scenarios. Only then will we able to take the right steps ahead.