Tuesday, 28 July 2015

Should the Paternoster lift be confined to History?

The paternoster lift takes its name from the first two words of the Lord’s Prayer - “paternoster,” or “Our Father” in Latin. The image of a moving chain decorated by small, individual compartments reminded its designers of rosary beads being turned in people’s hands whilst praying, which is how it got its name. The first paternoster-style lifts were installed in Oriel Chambers, Liverpool in 1868 and were designed by the architect Peter Ellis. In 1876 a German company R Stahl* installed a paternoster London’s General Post Office. However, in 1877, British engineer Peter Hart obtained a patent on a paternoster design. Then in 1884, the Dartford, England, engineering firm of J & E Hall built its "Cyclic Elevator”. Paternoster lifts comprise of a chain of open compartments (each usually designed for two persons) that move slowly in a loop up and down inside a building without stopping.

Where was the Paternoster lift popular?

Paternoster lifts were popular in Europe during the first half of the twentieth-century, but their use led to numerous health and safety concerns. These concerns were understandable. The fact that paternosters do not stop means they are particularly dangerous for the elderly, disabled and children to use. Add to this the fact that paternosters are door-less and it is easy to appreciate how accidents could happen and unfortunately they did happen and some included fatalities. Riding a paternoster is no time to be staring at your smartphone; timing your steps on and off the lift demands total concentration. The poor safety record of paternosters has led to them being described as ‘death traps’ in some circles.

When was the Paternoster lift banned from manufacture?

By the 1970s this poor safety record led to new paternoster installations being banned in many countries across Europe. Germany banned new installations of paternosters in 1974. In recent times government initiatives to remove the remaining 250 operational paternosters in Germany have met with a fairly surprising public backlash. Supporters of paternosters claimed they had efficient design and perhaps nostalgia caused them to overlook safety concerns. In the UK British National Standards Related to Lifts, Escalators and Moving Walks were updated with BS2655 Part 5 in 1970 that specifically outlined safety requirements for paternosters. All of the UK’s paternosters in service had been constructed before BS2655 Part 5 was introduced. 

Did any manufacturer ever improve upon the design?

In 2013 Hitachi introduced a design for a Circulating Multi-Car Elevator System that appears similar to a paternoster but has two additional benefits – the lift cars are independent of each other and are able to stop like conventional lifts. In the Hitachi prototype lifts are counterweighted against each other. You can see the set up here 

Safety first: Yes, Paternosters should be confined to history?

Given the number of accidents that have occurred with passengers travelling on paternosters it seems sensible that they are confined to history. It is extremely unlikely that new paternoster installations will be constructed anywhere in the world. It remains to be seen whether architects and building contractors have any appetite for paternoster –style vertical transportation systems such as the Circulating Multi-Car Elevator System designed by Hitachi.

However, contemporary multi car systems, as designed by TKE, may be given the name of paternoster as a ‘modern variation’ on an old theme. 

Dunbar and Boardman is the lift, escalator and access equipment consultancy. Are you currently planning a project that will involve vertical transportation? We would be happy to discuss with you. Give us a call on T +44 (0)20 7739 5093 or send us an email via peterboardman@dunbarboardman.com to start the conversation. We look forward to hearing from you.

* Jumping into the present, R Stahl was purchased by Thyssen Krupp Elevator (TKE) and J & E Hall was purchased by Otis.

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