A key to having a large number of people living within a small footprint, which is of utmost importance in our city, is building very high density and very tall buildings. Building height simply cannot be improved upon without improvements in the field of moving people vertically – elevators.
Elevators in standard sized buildings — ten stories or less — plod along at a minuscule five to ten miles per hour, but engineers and architects are in a constant battle to improve the speeds of the top designs for a new fastest elevator, reaching traveling speeds as high as twenty two miles an hour.
The need for faster elevators is tied to the need for greater eco-minded skyscrapers (small footprint). While most would assume that the American cityscape is clustered full of towering buildings and that most models are efficient enough, the majority of demand actually comes from foreign markets. The Chinese economic boom has led to staggering urban planning to accommodate millions of new citizens and thousands of new businesses; to avoid massive sized cities the skyscraper is an excellent way to keep a population in a relatively small area. China plans to construct some fifty thousand skyscrapers over the course of the next decade alone.
Japanese industrial manufacturer Hitachi is more well known for their televisions than their heavy engineering, but they are leaders in the quest for faster and more efficient elevators. Hitachi has invested sixty million dollars alone in constructing a facility that is used solely to test elevator speeds. The tallest testing facility in the world, this building allows Hitachi to safety test elevators that reach upwards of forty miles per hour.
The concern for these elevators is not that the high strength rigging line will snap — these lines are formatted to withstand a weight equal to a blue whale — but that the increase and decreases in pressure will affect the human ear. As the elevator car ascends and descends, the air pressure causes one’s ears to pop in the same manner as an airplane; while airplanes ease this sensation due to the considerable forward velocity, there is no means of reducing the pressure in a straight up and down elevator. In the original Sears Tower elevator, an unfortunate passenger’s ear drum ruptured from the ride. Thus, even the highest speeds have to be balanced out.
The key to these operations so far appears to be pressurizing the cabin with condensed and forced air. By blowing air into the elevator, the ear drum is not strained, allowing for comfortable rides. However, at higher speeds this is more difficult — akin to keeping air pressure steady in a car with windows rolled down.
Elevator ride up the Burj Al Arab