Last week German conglomerate and elevator-maker ThyssenKrupp unveiled the 21st-century equivalent of Roald Dahl’s the Great Glass Elevator. MULTI doesn’t quite blast into space, but the cable-less elevator system does do something that regular ol’ elevators do not: it can move horizontally.
Elevator design has evolved a bit since 1853, when Elisha Otis demonstrated the first safety elevator, a locking system that prevented elevators from falling down the shaft if the cables holding the cab failed, but not by a whole lot. Sure, elevators today go higher and faster than those of the 19th century. Yet Otis Elevators, founded by Elisha Otis, is still the world’s largest producers of vertical transport systems. We’re still largely using cable systems to hoist elevator cabs up and down between floors, as we did in the early 1800s. And as urbanization stretches cities taller and wider, this will have to change.
ThyssenKrupp proposes a new kind of elevator system, one controlled by a system of magnets, which could run multiple elevator cars within the same shaft and move both vertically and horizontally. The company estimates that this system, which requires less space for elevator shafts than traditional systems, reduces the space elevators take up in a building by as much as 50%. It also promises that MULTI’s cable-less technology will do away with the height challenges presented by conventional elevators. Supertall skyscrapers can only rise as high as the elevators that move people through them–by one estimate, cable hoist elevators can only reach about 1,500 feet. An electromagnetic system could reach even higher.
The MULTI is exactly what we’ve been waiting for… In our proposal for Taipei performing Arts Center [see here] we hoped to deploy a system of elevators that besides going up and down could move sideways, that could overtake each other for ultimate efficiency and pure bliss: the elevator a ride!
As Dezeen notes, this isn’t actually the first ropeless elevator design–a company called MagneMotion installed 11 such elevators on a U.S. Navy aircraft carrier last year. But non-vertical elevators haven’t really taken off just yet. A complex diagonal elevator system, for example, has been cited as the main delay in subway expansion to Manhattan’s west side that was supposed to open in 2013.
But a horizontal elevator system does open up possibilities for large-scale architecture–efficient movement across large buildings of irregular shapes (like NL Architects’ Taipei Performing Arts Center proposal, a series of stacked cubes that didn’t meet at the ground level) or giant floor plates, or even a sideways skyscraper.
Before you get too excited: This elevator has yet to appear as a functional prototype within a working building. ThyssenKrupp plans to debut it in a German skyscraper by the end of 2016.