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Tall Buildings

Lifts By Graham Barker, Partner, Vertical Transportation – 26 July 2018

Looking up at tall skyscrapers


Graham in an open collar shirt and suit jacket against a dark wall

Graham Barker

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Research carried out by New London Architecture (NLA) and GL Hearn reported that in 2016 there were 26 tall buildings completed in London. Since then there has been a significant increase, with an estimated 152 to be completed in London by 2019.

NLA have reported that 256 tall buildings in London currently have planning permission and are waiting for construction to commence, but this makes me think are we ready for them? Statistics from NLA are suggesting that these figures have more than doubled in recent years and getting the lift design right is critical to their success as a functional and profitable building.

But it’s not just in London that things are getting taller, a recent graphic from Savills which was published in Place North West shows the dramatic impact on the Manchester skyline of developments which are planned and under construction.

Similarly, in Birmingham a new 42 storey residential tower by Glenn Howells Architects has secured planning permission. In Bristol architects Chapman Taylor have received approval for a 26-storey residential tower which will be set to become the city’s tallest building. And in Leeds, the 32-storey Bridgewater Place Tower looks set to lose out on its tallest building in the city crown, to new 40-storey towers in the South Bank development designed by Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios for developer Commercial Estates Group.

It is clear from the statistics and planning approvals that cities are getting taller. With reports claiming that two-thirds of the world population will live in cities by 2050 (United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs) bodes the question, where are they going to live and work? Tall buildings require vertical transportation in order for these buildings to work and to accommodate an influx of city-goers, the lift specification must be right.

There are lots of planning tools that architects can use to draw a lift shaft, and usually they work well for low rise buildings (albeit as all lift manufacturers have slightly different size requirements – this is effectively designing in a specific manufacturer and restricting procurement options at a later stage). However, when you get into taller buildings the dynamics change, lift shafts sizes for equivalent lifts are different, limiting suitable options for the building. For example according to the Kone website on 19 July 2018, the tallest of their 'machine room less' range is suitable for is 90m of travel and a maximum speed of 3m/s.

The importance of the involvement of a vertical transportation designer at the early stage of tall building concept design is vital to ensure constructability, acceptable procurement routes, and to identify innovative ways in which to minimise the lift shaft area usage – maximising the lettable area of the building footprint.

Furthermore, the design and construction period of these tall buildings requires that a close eye is kept on changing regulations. Most recently new standards have been published concerning accessibility of lifts, these standards do not come into force until May 2020 but in the design of tall buildings, that’s just around the corner.

If you have any questions about designing vertical transportation to tall buildings, please feel free to get in contact with me.