I’m rooting for Japan!
The Washington Post – Elevator rides are not usually worth documenting. But when you step into the elevator at Shanghai Tower, people often pull out their cameras.
As the doors close, a screen at the elevator’s front lights up to show you the car’s location as it rises toward the building’s newly opened observation deck. A neatly dressed attendant informs passengers that the elevator has now reached a top speed of 18 meters per second, approximately 40 mph.
“This is really fast,” one passenger said during a recent packed ride up the tower.
It is, in fact, the fastest elevator in the world.
At a ceremony in Tokyo in early December, the Shanghai Tower elevators and the company that made them, Mitsubishi Electric, were officially awarded the title by Guinness World Records. Yet many passengers may not even experience the top speed. To do so, you have to travel in a souped-up elevator car with a Mitsubishi technician who can flick a switch, making the speedometer on the screen turn red: 20.5 meters per second (45.8 mph).
China is experiencing an elevator boom. Over the past decade, the vast majority of elevators installed around the world have been placed in China, where rapid urbanization has met with a desire for ambitious “super-tall” skyscrapers. It has been estimated that by 2020, 40 percent of all elevators will be in China.
And when it comes to speed, the rest of the world can’t keep up.
The Burj Khalifa in Dubai is the only skyscraper in the world taller than Shanghai Tower, but its elevators go barely half the speed. The fastest elevator in the West, installed at 1 World Trade Center in Manhattan, runs at a paltry 23 mph. The Shanghai Tower’s elevator goes even faster than the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror, a Disney haunted-elevator amusement-park ride that hurls thrill-seekers at 39 mph.
Look at a list of the world’s fastest elevators now, and five out of the top 10 are in China.
But China’s vast elevator market is slowing. As it slows, elevator companies are becoming more cutthroat — at every level.
Companies such as Mitsubishi are in competition for huge contracts with companies from all over the world. Another Japanese elevator company, Hitachi, came close to winning the Shanghai Tower contract. It was awarded one in Guangzhou instead and then announced plans to beat Mitsubishi’s speed with its own 44.7-mph elevators.
In the end, Mitsubishi installed new hardware on one of the elevators in Shanghai Tower, snatching the record back from Hitachi shortly after it was lost. Mitsubishi representatives said that the demands of the client, a consortium with links to the Shanghai municipal government, had prompted the decision.
The world’s first safety elevator was installed by the American company Otis in 1857 in a hotel in New York City. It traveled five floors at a speed of less than half a mile per hour.
According to Lee Gray, an associate professor of architecture at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, speeds improved as elevators moved from potentially explosive steam engines to more-efficient hydraulic systems and on to electric traction systems. Visiting Europeans were soon unnerved by the speed of the elevators across the Atlantic.
“The Brits would visit the United States and they would say, ‘God, why is it going so fast?’ ” Gray said.
For much of the 20th century, the fastest elevators were installed in American cities. Then the speed race moved to Asia.
Why Japanese firms have dominated high-speed elevators is a matter of debate. Some have reasoned that it is because of the technology shared with high-speed “bullet” trains, which Hitachi and Toshiba also make. Others have suggested that it may be because Japanese consumers are notorious for insisting upon smooth elevator rides. (Comfort and noise issues with ultrafast elevators are considerable; the elevators in Pan Am Building in New York were infamous for “howling.”)
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