The passenger lift has now been around officially for an incredible 150 years. Although the first actual reference to a passenger lift is dated back as far as 236 B.C. by a Roman architect named Vitruvius, who give an account that Archimedes built one.
Throughout the history of man, there has been mention of passenger lifts, using hemp rope and wood, powered by animals or by hand; going back as far as the Egyptian times. However, the first safe and modern passenger lift was first installed in the mid-19th Century (March 23rd 1857), 488 Broadway, New York by the company Otis, which still stands as the starting point of the passenger lift.
In the modern world, this ingenious invention remains fairly unnoticed, as with a lot of things in our culture that become the norm and we take for granted. Conversely, without them the skyline we know would look very different, without the aid of high rise ‘elevator’ buildings. Passenger lifts are now expected in all types of public buildings to enable its users to gain access – but does this include the disability impaired?
Architects have been mostly appreciative for passenger lifts because it has meant they have been able to build upwards. It is only since the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) was passed, making sure public buildings have access for all, that lifts are also used for the disability impaired. As many of the older and smaller public buildings don’t have passenger lifts in them, it means they have to be introduced, causing architectural, logistic and financial headaches by modifying existing access arrangements.
The other issue that hampers progress is that disability access products are seen as unsightly and not stylish in their appearance. The title of ‘platform lift’ has connotations attached to it too, as they are often thought of as aesthetically displeasing or having a functionally similar to those lifting goods.
Public buildings certainly have been reluctant to facilitate the introduction of platform lifts, partly due the aesthetic side of things and due to the logistics of whether the building is suitable for the modifications needed. The DDA was put into action in 2004, and only 15 per cent of England has officially got disabled access; this is a long way off the 100% disabled access objective by 2005.
The good news is that in an age where aesthetics mean a lot, the design and manufacturing of our products cater for this significantly. The modern day platform lifts are able to overcome many architectural hurdles whatever the size, age, orientation and scope of the building. Also, contrary to belief, the design of platform lifts has progressed and they have literally ‘broken through the glass ceiling’ in their aesthetic quality and precision engineering. Following on from passenger lifts, platform lifts now present the same functionality and sophisticated designs that blend harmoniously in with both contemporary and traditional environments.
One of the more popular solutions in terms of subtleness is the freestanding platform lift and reach up to 13 meters. They come with their own shaft, with a very small pit size (around 50mm), meaning disruptive building work is kept to a minimum and can be installed very quickly. Glazed or 1 hour fire rated shaft can be erected by simply cutting a 50mm pit in the floor with a 3- or single- phase power supply. This type of platform lift doesn’t even require wall fixings and means the foundations of the building doesn’t need to be dug in to reducing labour costs and disruption to businesses.
Nottingham Forest FC’s ground, The City Ground is a good example where a freestanding platform lift has been used to achieve disabled access for its hospitality suites. As it is one of the premier venues in the East Midlands for banqueting and conferencing facilities, it was vital the ground provided equal access for all members of the public. When the lift wasn’t implemented, disabled people actually had to be lifted up the stairs, which is not a long term solution! The platform lift is now accessible from the foyer area and the contemporary glass fronted doors are in keeping with the modern interior of the stadium and create a light, non-claustrophobic atmosphere for its users.
Freestanding platform lifts can even be used in listed buildings, which in the past have caused the most problems for those who are mobility impaired visitors, without compromising the architecture found there, which English Heritage keep a close eye on. A good example of where there has been success in these types of buildings is the Hugo Boss store in Sloane Square, London, which is a listed building. It now offers a bespoke lift mirroring the company’s image and also being receptive to the building’s heritage.
Another example is Butts Dental Practice, which is located in The Butts conservation area and is renowned for its grand 18th century Grade II listed buildings and historical value. Disabled access has also been created, so the basement is now accessible, use a screw and nut system. To keep the lift looking part of the existing architecture of the building, the platform lift was finished in black to complement the black balustrades on the wall. Its open design, which uses large glass safety panels and solid stainless steel details, provided a stylish and elegant look which complimented the distinct gothic appearance of this Victorian property.
These examples show that the line between platform lifts and passenger lifts is getting closer as the gap is closing with innovative design and practical, yet aesthetically pleasing solutions. Whereas passenger lifts have traditionally been accepted and have become architecturally significant through their design and functionality, platform lifts are following suit.