Why The Elevator Shaft Was Invented Before The Elevator

Why The Elevator Shaft Was Invented Before The Elevator


The world’s first elevator shaft was installed four years before
the elevator was invented, which sounds ridiculous. But inside this building, the Cooper Union Foundation Building
in New York City, is the world’s first elevator shaft, the first time a building was constructed to have a space for an
elevator top to bottom. Because when this was being
designed in the 1850s, the architect and owner
looked at New York City just starting to sprawl
wider and rise higher and they predicted,
“Someone is going to invent “a safe passenger elevator soon.” Four years later, Elisha Otis
did just that. But that prediction wasn’t quite perfect. – I think the remarkable thing
about the Foundation Building is that Peter Cooper first recognised
that he needed to build a building, and then that he would figure out
what he wanted to do with it. There were principles
that he was committed to. One was free education to the
working-class people of New York. He established a free reading room
before there were public libraries; also, the largest interior space
in New York City in which to hold lectures and debates, also open for free
to the general public. Peter Cooper’s vision was both for a very
radical, progressive institution, but he wanted embedded in the building
radical new technologies and ideas. So, by this time, by 1850, New York City was still really, really
crowded and dense. But the grid of Manhattan
had already been laid out. The Manhattan grid was
established in 1811, so everyone in New York City understood
that New York City was going to grow, and it was growing, in the middle
of the century, exponentially. In fact, the population of
Manhattan would peak in 1910, and we still have not reached the density and the high population that
the city had at that time. So, Peter Cooper knew that the city
had to be able to grow outward, but it also had to be able to grow upward. And so, he knew the elevator was coming. At the same time, Elisha Otis, who we all know from the
Otis Elevator Company, was busy working on not
inventing an elevator, because the elevator had
been in use for centuries to move equipment, to move goods. What Otis understood was that elevators would never be used for
people until they were safe. So, what he was working on doing
is to invent the safety elevator. That’s happening in 1855. The Foundation Building
meanwhile is under construction. So, Peter Cooper knew this was coming. The only thing nobody knew was what would be the
shape of the elevator cab, and Peter Cooper bet on circular. Since it’s the most efficient way,
spatially, to put the most number of
people in the smaller shaft and to carry them vertically. Little did he know that
that was not going to be the conventional elevator cab shape. And so, this was the first elevator shaft
that was constructed, we think, worldwide, certainly in the city, but it was not the first
functioning elevator. And the elevator cab that was
ultimately put in this shaft was square, so it was literally a
square peg in a round hole. The building was renovated, really,
from top to bottom on the inside in 1975. The architect, John Hejduk,
makes sure that the round shaft is really floating in the space. And the other thing he does is
he makes a companion elevator diagonally across the floor,
which is a square elevator. Always thought that
that was a beautiful way to allow architecture
to speak across time. Peter Cooper’s intuition
that the shape would be round was not what the market
would carry forward. When you’re thinking ahead of your time, sometimes you will guess correctly
and sometimes you won’t. But taking the risk to
actually invent something new and to build it into a building, I think, is really an innovative idea. – Is it worth the risk of
making that sort of prediction when it is basically just a gamble? Given what hassle a round
elevator shaft turned out to be, was it worth it?
Or would it have been better to wait and then retrofit a
regular elevator in later, like every other building from that era? And here’s a bigger question: What should we be designing for now? Not just in buildings, but anywhere. What’s the thing that
is going to seem obvious in 20 or 30 years but no
one can see coming now? I don’t know.
Maybe you do.

61 thoughts on “Why The Elevator Shaft Was Invented Before The Elevator

  1. If you're browsing YouTube in English (UK), then the title and description of this video will say "Lift": otherwise "Elevator". Unfortunately, I can't make the same changes to the video.

  2. I don't know why people will always attach the word "british" when describing the english language that is spoken in the UK. It should just be called english, with no need to attach the word "british" on the end as a region descriptor. The english people invented the english language, it's everywhere else that uses a variation of english that needs the extra region descriptor.

  3. One thing I never saw coming was The Disappearance of tablets I mean I thought when Windows 8 came out that it was the rise of the tablet now all we have is surface and iOS all the Android ones disappeared and all the cheap Windows tablets disappeared to and if they'd still do exist then I never see any reviewers reviewing them things people like unbox therapy, Austin Evans, or mobiletechreview

  4. I think the main reason round elevators didn't catch on is that while people can fill a round space effectively, most of our stuff can't. Trying to move furniture would be quite a bit less efficient in a round elevator, unless people can stand in those leftover slivers of space. Residential buildings don't have freight elevators, so everything has to go up in just the one, unlike a commercial building.

  5. Convener belts that have chairs in them where people sit, plug in there phone and are moved about so they do not bump into things as they do things on the phone.

  6. There is no reason not to build round elevators – the London Underground had round elevators with emergency stairs wrapped round them (until they started installing escalators). Any vertically linear shape will work since the cab is built on a rectangular frame that holds the brakes adjacent to the rails on each side. It is just a question of minor effort for door actuation.

  7. I'll bet it was worth doing, to us at least if not to him. And judging by your description of him, I'd guess that's enough to make him happy. His elevator shaft probably encouraged the development of elevators for the common people, and likely accelerated the growth of the modern skyscrapers we see everywhere today.

  8. In 20 or 30 years we will hopefully have high speed internet connection to every home in Europe. Fiberoptic cables or provisions for them should probably be included in every building.

  9. i think all buildings in major cities will need nuclear resistant bunker beneath it with big supply of water and basic nutrition enogh for it's residents

  10. things that might look obvious in 20 years are one thing but i have the feeling buildings constructed today not always have what seems obvious to me today.
    fiberglass cables and connections, enough power outlets in every room or just good insulation and at least the option to add renewable energy sources.

  11. One thing that always confused me was emergency exits of such tall buildings.

    Do they have to be stairs? Couldn't someone design a spiral slide?

  12. I cannot believe the number of times I thought "Shut yo mouth…!" while watching this video. (It's an American Geek culture thing.)

  13. How did they manage to establish the grid in 1811, which they knew would permanently lock down the space in which people live, without having any idea about future building/transportation technology?

  14. My personal prediction, information carried over the power grid. Think about it, USB ports already provide the power and information exchange between computers and devices. I’ve already seen USB charging outlets. It wouldn’t take much effort to make a house grid a LAN consisting of the outlets in each room. Maybe a little more to connect each LAN on the power grid. It just makes sense

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