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Aiming high: the new generation of elevators

The fluoro-lit elevator playing annoying canned music as it lurches towards the upper levels of a building is becoming a dim memory.

As the new generation of ‘supertall’ buildings (buildings of 300 meters or more) reach ever higher into the sky, the safety, efficiency and comfort in which its occupants are transported has become a major part of building planning and management. Not only are the buildings getting taller, elevators are getting faster and smarter.

When the CTF Finance Centre skyscraper in China’s Guangzhou is completed next year, it will stand at 530 meters tall. It isn’t the highest building in the world, but its elevators, which will ascend at 20 meters per second, will be the fastest.

The speed is twice that of the elevators in the Burj Khalifa building in the United Arab Emirates, currently the world’s tallest tower, and nearly three times the speed you can travel up the Empire State Building in the U.S.

CTF Finance Centre might, however, only hold the record for a short time. When completed in 2018, The Kingdom Tower in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, will stand a full kilometer in height and will boast the world’s tallest elevator at 660m, which will travel at a speed of 10 meters per second. It is also mooted to be the world’s fastest double-decker, with one passenger car attached on top of the other.

The rise of the supertall building 

Supertall buildings are a common feature of 21st century cityscapes, especially in Asian cities, with China boasting six out of the 10 tallest buildings either completed or under construction.

As more people are gravitating towards high-rise living in cities, it is not just the speed but the efficiency of the elevator that will take them where they want to go that counts.

Michael George, Head of JLL’s Asia Pacific Premium Asset Group, says most supertall buildings are multi-purpose with retail, office, hotel and residential components, all contained in what is essentially a “vertical village”.

These towers have to focus on fostering communities, encourage a sense of place-making and social connectivity, create interesting and engaging spaces and experiences and enable otherwise disparate groups of users to meet and interconnect as they fulfil both personal and professional aspects of their lives within these supertall buildings, he explains.

The biggest problem in a supertall building is, of course, when an elevator breaks down and people can’t move around freely and quickly.

Samuel So, Director of JLL’s Super Tall Building Management Services (STBMS), Greater China, says this is one of the key challenges for management and the number one complaint from tenants.

“When we suspend operations for maintenance or because of a breakdown, we must ensure existing elevators have sufficient capacity to carry people,” he says.

Creating user friendly elevators 

Other complaints include users getting lost or having difficulty getting to their destination. Very often users will need to change elevators two or three times to get to an upper floor.

So says that during construction, STBMS works with elevator engineers to ensure they have the right system of exchange floors. This includes color-coded signage that guides the user to the appropriate elevator.

Aside from increasing speed and efficiency, manufacturers are constantly working on new innovations, which include elevators that move sideways, have rotating cabins and even have running water and toilets.

While elevators incorporating mini bathrooms may seem odd at first, the idea has been promoted by the Japanese government following a series of devastating earthquakes in recent years.

During one of the nation’s recent earthquakes, people were trapped in 14 elevators and it took up to 70 minutes to rescue some of them. That is a long time to be stuck in a place when nature calls. With around 620,000 elevators across Japan, the idea is being taken seriously.

The smartest of elevators even know where occupants want to go before they step inside: when a passenger enters a building and scans their security pass, information about what floor they live or work on is sent to the elevator’s system.

Passengers are then directed to the elevator that will take them to their destination with the fewest number of stops by grouping people together who are traveling to the same part of the building.

Because smart elevators make fewer stops, they use less energy. Building owners also like them because they mean large crowds of people waiting for the next car are less likely to form in lobbies.

So it’s not all about the highest or fastest. A successful supertall building is more about an intelligent and well planned system for moving people, rather breaking records.

This article originally appeared on Real Views, JLL's news site that features stories exploring the world of real estate and its impact on the wider business world. Visit the Real Views site to subscribe for our weekly email of top stories, delivered direct to your inbox.