The {NEW} Livable City

City skylines look like a line of tall towers marching in ordered rows. The reason is simple: elevators.

As more people move to urban areas, they require access to open spaces, places to congregate, and innovative transportation that is flexible, fast and safe. As designers seek to reinvent the city building, the way that people move around inside structures will change. ThyssenKrupp Elevator AG is working to re-imagine how cities work by innovating elevator technologies, building award winning sustainable buildings for their company and awarding prizes for out-of-the- box designs.

Modern Life

100% of Singapore and Qatar’s residents live in cities. In the US, 81% call an urban area home. As China continues to push for more urbanization, it is very likely that the 54% now living in cities will grow. Andreas Schierenbeck, CEO & Chairman, ThyssenKrupp commented that the buildings now being constructed will be around for 50 years, so decisions about those buildings will reverberate and multiply through time. For elevators, which are literally at the core of building systems, there are many opportunities to  create efficiencies in existing systems and changing demographics.

For elevators, the ‘rush hour’ of the Mad Men days has given way to constant demand. As workers cover an increasingly varied work load, meeting up with clients, customers, sales reps, consultants, IT, maintenance workers and other staff that are also using the elevators. Add in trips to Starbucks and meals, there is a constant flow of people in and out of elevators that are designed to hold a dozen or more, when only one or two people are aboard.

MULTI: A New Idea in Town

ThyssenKrupp Multi Elevator

The concept of elevators has been around since ancient Roman times. Before electricity, they were rigged using counterweights, pulleys and elaborate mechanisms to ensure safety. The first powered system in the early 19th century was driven by steam engines. It wasn’t until 1880, when the German engineer Werner von Siemens invented the first electric elevator, that modern cities were practically possible. Elevators have grown faster and safer, and data driven to better serve customers.

Meanwhile the basic concept of an elevator hasn’t changed in over a hundred years. The counterweights for large elevators can be two times the mass of the building, which means the energy required to move a single person a few floors is very inefficient. The costs for construction and the loss of important, elevators dramatically restrict how a building can be designed, a problem for modern cities that must incorporate more open space, light and other non-linear features that urban dwellers want.

Responding to the changing habits and needs of people, ThyssenKrupp developed the MULTI, a modular design that seems like a construction of Legos. Based on the Transgrid Maglev that ThyssenKrupp helped develop for Shanghai, the MULTI doesn’t use cables or counterweights. Inside the MULTI structural framework is a capsule, large enough for a several people. Moving smoothly and quickly, MULTI can route itself across a floor to pick up waiting passengers horizontally as well as vertically. Another feature is that the system can be installed and working as the building goes up, and cars can be added to existing shafts to accommodate growing demand.

Enabling the Future

Vincent Callebaut Designs

If imaginative buildings, like those designed by Vincent Callebaut for countries like China and Saudi Arabia, are to be built, they will need the solutions that ThyssenKrupp is designing. In order to further adoption, Mr. Schierenbeck sees three barriers that will need to be addressed:

  • Split Incentives: Building tenants, who benefit from the convenience and lower cost of newer technologies, don’t pay for installation of equipment. They do pay in their common space charges, so may begin to ask about the costs involved before signing a lease, or choose buildings for their efficiency and flexibility.
  • Technological Innovation: Designers and engineers have experience and expertise with existing systems. Being comfortable with installation, safety and other requirements can make the ‘old’ technologies seem more comfortable than innovations. As buildings integrate new technologies, Mr. Schierenbeck’s experience is that they create demand, educating designers, engineers, building owners and tenants.
  • Incentives: States and cities have elevator regulations but they are focused on safety not efficiency. Incentives, such as a 10% cash back for a Tesla purchase in California, don’t exist at all.

As municipal demands grow to increase efficiency, in order to reduce peak energy costs, reduce carbon and encourage conservation, efficiency building codes for new buildings and for retrofits for large buildings will make such incentives critical. As cities evolve to accommodate more people, new ways to move around inside them opens up new kinds of architecture that is responsive to the needs of a varied community. Elevators won’t solve the problem. But the planners who will can’t do it without a modern means of interior transportation.