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Are big stairs the new office watercooler?

A stairway and meeting space connect the seventh- and eighth-floor offices of the <b>Arnold Worldwide </b>ad agency in Boston. John Blanding/Globe Staff

When you step off the elevator at Arnold Worldwide’s new office in Downtown Crossing, the first thing you see is the stairs.

They’re right in the middle of the room, a sort of central artery through the ad agency’s four-floor headquarters, with staffers coming up and down, laptops in hand, stopping to chat.

That was the plan.

Staircases are fast becoming a big thing in creative office design.

Like Arnold’s, TripAdvisor’s new headquarters in Needham is built around a grand staircase.

And more companies that have long encouraged collaboration by calling for open-floor designs are now experimenting with ways to take the employee mingling vertical.


“The staircase is the modern-day watercooler,” said Arnold Worldwide’s global president, Pam Hamlin.

“You see people on the stairs and you have a conversation,” she said. “Or you pass somebody and share an idea.”

As Arnold and its parent company, Havas, were moving from seven floors at their old offices in the Prudential Center to their new four-story space in the former Filene’s building downtown, they saw an opportunity to help workers who mostly relied on elevators to interact without the pressure to wrap up when the door opens.

“Collaboration is not just something that happens on one floor,” said Victor Vizgaitis, a principal at Sasaki Associates, who designed the space. “And now you never have to get in an elevator to get anywhere.”

Staircases can double as event space, too, as they do at TripAdvisor. There, the big central staircase hosts small sit-downs and all-staff meetings that are broadcast company-wide.

In Needham, <b>TripAdvisor</b>’s staircase serves as an event space, too. Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff

The staircase as multilevel casual gathering spot is not a new idea, said Stephen Baker, the president of Baker Design Group, which helped design TripAdvisor’s headquarters. It goes back to ancient Rome, where the Spanish Steps have served a similar function for centuries.

“All I did was steal an idea that seems like it’s been working for a thousand years,” Baker said.


What’s more, Baker noted, stairs provide antidotes for other plagues of the modern workplace: the ennui of sitting all day and the lack of interaction that comes when workers bury their noses in mobile phones.

“On a staircase,” Baker said, “people keep their heads up. No one has any distractions. They’re too busy trying not to fall.”

Tim Logan can be reached
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