Asharq Al-awsat English Middle-east and International News and Opinion from Asharq Al-awsat Newspaper

Is a One-Person Elevator a Solution to Curb Virus Spread?

Is a One-Person Elevator a Solution to Curb Virus Spread?

Saturday, 27 June, 2020 - 05:00
Taped-off areas demarcate safe distances between people in the elevator lobby of an office building in Singapore on March 31, 2020. Roslan Rahman/AFP via Getty Images
London - Asharq Al-Awsat

An elevator is the perfect incubator for an airborne virus in many ways. So how can we safely shuttle people in these crowded, sealed-off boxes? It remains an unresolved question on the post-pandemic reopening checklist.

The range of DIY elevator solutions are unconvincing, even comical: dividing the floor with tape for social distancing, gluing hand sanitizers on handrails, asking people to face the walls, or using fobs and metal pins instead of fingers to press buttons.

The Seoul-based office of the firm Salesforce has a Disneyland-style ticketing system, limiting elevator rides to two to four occupants per trip, which results in a lot of energy waste and queuing every day.

What all of these solutions has in common is that they hinge on appealing to each passenger's sense of caution, a system that's inherently not foolproof.

According to a report by Tribune Media Services, architects at The Manser Practice in London are now offering a curious engineering solution: bring back single-occupancy elevators.

Painting a post-pandemic scenario for hotels, the firm proposes modernizing the Victorian-era elevator model called the paternoster lift. "We see a potential for the good old paternoster lift to be modernized, which could move people around more efficiently in some hotels," Manser explained.

The design of the original paternoster is certainly dramatic, if crudely so. Custom designed by architect Peter Ellis in 1868 for Liverpool's Oriel Chambers office building (a polarizing modernist landmark), it features a series of small, open compartments moving continuously in a loop up and down the five-story structure.

Passengers never have to fuss with buttons; they simply hop on when they see an open compartment and disembark when they reach their floor. The mechanism is akin to wheel carts or car machines in urban parking lots that hoist vehicles up a tight space.

Editor Picks