Going up

Elevators make the vertical city possible. The most innovative ones take the fastest route, report technical weaknesses themselves, generate advertising income and – for the first time – move horizontally: no more cables with magnetic levitation technology.

The four pale grey elevator doors in the Scandic Hamburg Emporio lobby have become real eye-catchers over the past year. People waiting in front of them find themselves drawn to the changing images and registering the brief messages. One shows a photo of a temptingly refreshing drink, an “Emporio Fizz,” while the next one offers a friendly welcome message. A few seconds later, the projector over the door fades in a new image. The DoorShow works well: the Scandic Hamburg Emporio is one of the first hotels to have Schindler install this new advertising and information display on the outside of its lift doors. “We were won over very quickly,” says Tobias Albert, Director of Sales & Marketing. “This is the advertising space we’d been waiting for.” Even if they are not yet used for third-party advertising, the elevator doors clearly present the hotel’s own products effectively. People often order the Emporio Fizz at the bar, even though it is not on the menu.

“Elevators have lacked this wow factor up to now,” notes Tobias Albert. “When it came to design, lifts used to be more of a hindrance.” The interior of the elevators at the Scandic Hotel also has a special ambience. The guests are immersed in sea-blue light as they enter the lift from the foyer. The colour gets gradually lighter as they travel up to the seventh floor. “Like a diver swimming to the surface from the depths,” adds Albert, explaining the design. Of course, most people will put two and two together once they know that the hotel has a water theme.

When it came to design, lifts used to be more of a hindrance.
Tobias Albert, Director of Sales & Marketing, Scandic Hamburg Emporio

Design, beauty and spectacular structures captivate elevator users, like at Berlin’s Hotel Radisson Blu, where a glass lift takes guests from the foyer and through an aquarium filled with more than one million litres of water. About 1,500 fish swim around passengers as they travel through the AquaDom. It is the world’s largest freestanding cylindrical aquarium and part of Sea Life Berlin, which is located in Berlin’s 68,000-square-metre DomAquarée district, a project developed by Union Investment and completed in 2005. Attractions like this draw many visitors. But it’s the technology that has to be the focus. This mode of transportation has continually developed over its 160-year history, taking Elisha Graves Otis’ invention of the safety elevator as the starting point. Lifts have become faster, quieter, lighter, and above all, smarter. 

Many manufacturers have developed preventive maintenance systems to ensure that they remain functional and safe long-term. While in the past it often took a long time until someone reported a defective elevator, a technician came, ordered the necessary spare parts and repaired it, these days downtime can be prevented or at least shortened. Preventive maintenance systems collect sensor data in the lifts and send it to a cloud where it can be analysed and faults recognised early on. This way service companies and operators know the status of their elevators at all times, and technicians can act before a lift breaks down.

Taking the elevator with an app

Meanwhile, digitisation in the lift industry has reached building users in an entirely different way. With Schindler’s Port technology, for example, elevator passengers can find the most efficient way to reach their destination in the building. Users authenticate themselves with an access card on the terminal at the lift and can see on the touchscreen which car will take them to the floor they want the fastest. Port technology groups people together who want to visit a certain floor and reduces the number of stops along the way. “The traffic management system really comes into its own in complex and tall buildings with many elevators,” explains Jan Steeger, Schindler’s spokesman. “We use it all over the world. Port can improve handling capacity by up to 40 percent.”

Not only do users benefit by having their wait time minimised. Having an optimal distribution of passengers ultimately means fewer elevators are needed, which means they take up less of a building’s valuable space. Switching some of them off outside peak times also saves energy and reduces costs. Hong Kong’s tallest skyscraper at 484 metres, the International Commerce Centre, has experienced the effect and was able to reduce its annual elevator energy consumption by 85,000 kilowatt hours.


This traffic management system is also used in Park Tower, the tallest building in Zug, Switzerland. Commercial and residential space is spread across 25 floors in this 81-metre tall building. Individual access authorisation via Bluetooth and the Myport smartphone app automatically opens the gate to the underground carpark for residents and users, where the elevator is already waiting to bring its passengers to the right floor without them having to push a button. But networking with other building technologies can go far beyond that. What if the Myport app turned on the lights and heating when you opened the door to your home? “At the moment, many providers have their own system,” says Steeger. “We have to take the next big step of setting a standard and creating common interfaces that everyone involved agrees upon.”

New height records with UltraRope

Schindler alone transports more than one billion people all over the world with its lifts, escalators and moving walkways every day. The Swiss-based company is one of Europe’s big four, along with Otis, Kone and Thyssen Krupp – and all of them are global industry giants.

Kone, a Finnish company, introduced its new UltraRope in 2013. This cable made of carbon-fibre strands coated in polyurethane enables elevators to travel up to heights of 1,000 metres. This doubles the previous maximum height of 500 metres, which steel cables could not exceed due to their heavy weight. UltraRope only weighs one-fifth as much as traditional cables and is more durable. This technology will show what it can do in what is soon to be the world’s tallest building. Kone has installed seven of the world’s fastest double-decker lifts in the Jeddah Tower in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. They will shuttle passengers to a height of 660 metres for the first time. When it is completed in 2020, the Jeddah Tower will stand 1,007 metres tall.

Thyssen Krupp Elevator has probably made the greatest technological leap. The Essen-based company is slated to install its new Multi model – the world’s first elevator that can travel horizontally – for the first time in 2021. The lift uses magnetic levitation technology and does not need steel support cables. It’s a reinvention of the escalator and finds its first official home in Berlin’s new East Side Tower. Thyssen Krupp presented its first fully functional unit in Rottweil, Baden-Württemberg in Germany, back in June 2017. There are twelve shafts in the 246-metre-high test tower, three of which are reserved for the Multi. Engineers are testing high-speed elevators that can travel up to 18 metres per second in the other nine shafts. For comparison: The world’s fastest lift in Shanghai Tower in Shanghai, China, travels at 20.5 metres per second.

“Half paternoster, half Transrapid”

At five to six metres per second, the Multi is comparatively slow, but it compensates for a lack of speed with availability. Since many elevator cars circulate in the same shaft, passengers never have to wait more than 15 to 30 seconds for the next lift. At the same time, only eight people at most can fit in a single car, which means fewer stops and less time spent getting on and off. This also reduces the number of trips by empty cars, a welcome side effect.

We need to set a standard and create common interfaces.
Jan Steeger, Schindler spokesperson

The cars were designed to be very light and small for many reasons. Thyssen Krupp uses linear motor technology that the company co-developed for the Transrapid maglev train. To stay below the optimal weight for the linear motor, carbon composites and other materials are used to reduce cabin weight by up to 50 percent. Since the new cable-free technology requires significantly smaller shafts – traditional elevator shafts can occupy up to 40 percent of a floorplan – buildings have significantly more lettable space available. “The taller the building, the more cost-effective it is, because the floor space that the Multi saves can be multiplied by the number of floors,” explains Andreas Schierenbeck, CEO of Thyssen Krupp Elevator. “If a building has 100 storeys, then you can multiply the saved space by 100.” 

In order to move along the horizontal as well as the vertical axis, engineers had to invent an entirely new component. The Multi uses a switch, the exchanger, to not only change its direction up and down, but sideways as well. Since the cabins are attached to a car of sorts, passengers are protected by a multilevel braking system. 

The manufacturer describes the Multi as “half paternoster, half Transrapid” and calculates that the lift will be cost-effective in buildings over 300 metres or more than 100 storeys high. While the different cable technologies reached their limits in the past, the Multi has practically no limits. Its unlimited vertical usage combined with its new horizontal flexibility means architects, operators and city planners will have to rethink their approach. What are the possibilities now?

A subway in a high-rise

Carriages can easily travel back and forth between buildings or connect them with underground metro stations. At Thyssen Krupp Elevator, they like to compare the new lift system to a subway in a skyscraper. It is like a modern means of transport in huge buildings, which are approaching sizes comparable to a city.

The Multi is currently being tested and certified in the tower in Rottweil. Although it is fully functional in every regard, it has yet to receive final authorisation for transporting people. Engineers continue to tinker with the concept and are already thinking in three dimensions. If elevators can travel up, down, right and left, why not forward and backward as well?

By Petra Nickisch-Kohnke

Title image: Thyssenkrupp (Simulation)

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