In the early 20th century it would have been hard to visualise our current urban landscape full of skyscrapers, cars and elevated walkways. Almost 100 years later, it is just as difficult to picture what our future cities will look like.
A glimpse at some of the projects in developmental stages would suggest that we have a lot to look forward to. Take for example what is being achieved with one of the most significant, yet restrictive, elements of modern architecture: elevators.
The concept of the elevator was invented in the Middle Ages. It wasn’t until 1854 that a safety mechanism was designed that would prevent these lifts from falling if the hoisting rope broke. Skyscrapers could then become a possibility, and for the next 150 years or so, elevators would continue to become a staple part of multi-storey buildings. Without any further innovation, the elevator would remain a cable-hoisted box in a single, linear shaft, forcing buildings to comply with its limitations.
Enter ThyssenKrupp, a German industrial group who has developed the horizontal elevator. In 2014, ThyssenKrupp revealed their Multi elevator technology to the world. Using magnetic levitation technology (the same way Bullet trains are powered), the Multi lift system remains cable-free and is not limited to one elevator shaft. These elevators are free to move vertically and horizontally, with multiple units operating within the same shafts. The result is a more efficient transportation system inside and even between buildings.
The importance of this is highlighted if you consider that most New York City office workers spend 16.6 years waiting for elevators, and a further 5.9 years riding in them (Schierenbeck, 2014). Multi offers a solution to this, with their multiple cabins reducing the wait for your next elevator to 15-30 seconds. These lifts travel in a loop at approximately 5 meters per second. While this is slower than current elevators, this is said to allow for a more comfortable ride.
The initial upfront cost for horizontal lifts will be more expensive to install, yet long term it can be expected that they will help buildings to save money. Buildings will be able to move people around more efficiently, so smaller footprints and greener architecture can be achieved. The first full-scale horizontal elevator is scheduled for completion later this year in Germany.
Another 2.5 billion people will populate our cities by 2050 (UN, 2014). Most focus has been on sustainably transporting these growing populations externally through better public transport, however it is also important to find better ways to transport them internally within buildings.
Horizontal elevators offer us a glimpse into tomorrow. An unrestricted transport system implies that we may start to see new buildings break away from the prototypical city skyscraper and morph into complex, interconnected structures, containing integrated networks of shuttles. They won’t just be elevators anymore. They will be the future of city transportation.