What an increase in skyscrapers means for the future lift design and engineering

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In 2013, the engineering company KONE made a breakthrough in lift technology that changed how architects looked at city skylines forever. This revolution came in the form of KONE Ultrarope—a super-strength tensile cable that would enable lifts to travel faster and further.

The result was a surge in skyscraper construction. In the past, architecture of this sort has been limited by the lack of sufficient elevator technology, but following its rapid progression in the last half-century, we’re approaching an era of ‘megatall’ skyscraping buildings.

2015 was a recording breaking year for skyscrapers, as over a hundred 200 metre high towers sprang up all over the world. With this record expected to be broken on a yearly basis, these soaring new heights are creating new challenges for lift designers and engineers.

London is just one of the many cities experiencing a skyscraper boom. As the majority of our high-end luxury lifts are installed in commercial and residential properties within the city, Premier Platform Lifts is conscious of how lift technology is both shaping and changing to keep up with our capital’s soaring skyline.

Lift towers are essential to skyscraper construction

Since the 1800’s elevators have been a vital part of skyscraper design. Aside from performing the obvious role of transporting people up and down a great number of storeys, elevator shafts are very often used to form the building’s central core.

This steel backbone is the main support column for the entire building, supporting a complex network, or skeleton, of horizontal beams that provide the foundations for each of the floors. It was once predicted that as buildings got taller they would need a wider central core to fit in more elevators.

One US architect in the fifties designed a mile-high skyscraper, with much of its core taken up by elevator shafts. This is based on the efforts to cater to human comfort, which limits lift speed to 3,000ft/min (approximately 34 mph) and makes it necessary to have more elevators to render the building viable as a commercial or residential environment.

However, the fastest elevator currently under construction is designed to travel at speeds of almost 46 mph, speeding through 119 floors in under a minute. In theory, this technology—enabled by innovations such as the Ultrarope—should go some way to reducing the amount of space occupied by central elevator towers.

How elevator technology will enable a ‘megatall’ future

With buildings such as the kilometer-high Jeddah Tower set for completion in 2020, technology is under increasing amounts of pressure to develop travel solutions fast. Even the most recently developed mechanisms which took years to create are being replaced with new engineering concepts.

Cables, which have only just been engineered to be long, light and strong enough to transport passenger lifts up hundred-meter buildings, may soon be replaced by magnets. This magnetic levitation technology is also used by high-speed trains, and can operate within smaller lift shafts, further reducing the size of central cores.

Plans to travel even faster now hinge on the development of high-tech air pressure adjustment systems, which would protect passengers from discomfort. Other crucial features of elevator technology which must improve to match the higher speeds and taller buildings include safety devices such as buffers and brakes.

With skyscrapers being built purely in order to test and develop cutting-edge elevator technology, these developments are already on the horizon.