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Tall Stories in the Big Apple

Elevator entrances reach new heights in 3 WTC, and 10 and 35 Hudson Yards.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

by Ralph M. Newman

Source: Elevator World

LJ Bliaotta at World Trade Center

Columbia CEO Louis “L.J.” Blaiotta, Jr. at 3 WTC inspecting one of 27 20-ft.-high entrances currently under construction.

Twenty-foot-high elevator entrances?

At firrst blush, this sounds like the stuff of imagination or a futuristic movie set. However, this is the current reality at Tower 3 of New York City’s (NYC) World Trade Center (WTC) complex, where a major OEM is in the process of installing 27 such oversized entrances designed and supplied by its strategic supplier, Columbia Elevator Products Co. Inc. Among the world’s most iconic sites, 3 WTC is located at 175 Greenwich Street at the southern tip of Manhattan (ELEVATOR WORLD, July and September 2016, and February 2017). Standing 80 stories and nearly 1,100 ft., this building, with its soaring lobby, is scheduled for completion next year.

The design of 3 WTC was brought to life by noted architect Richard Rogers of Rogers, Stirk Harbour & Partners. The plans called not only for these previously unseen entrance heights, but for a revolutionary approach to elevator entrances and lighting applications as a certifiable part of their structure. Such bold vision has been trending of late, with architects increasingly stretching the limits of design and code compliance to meet the demands of today’s dynamically evolving, highly competitive real-estate environment. In the elevator industry, market demand drives innovation, and, in 2017, the elevator entrance has shown unending innovation since its rudimentary beginnings over a century ago. Even in more recent times, entrance heights of 20 ft., or even half that, were unfathomable, not as much because of aesthetic issues as matters of safety.

Louis “L.J.” Blaiotta, Jr., Columbia’s  CEO, said: 

“Elevator entrances play much more of a critical role in safety than many people pause to consider. Most look at elevator entrances and today’s sliding doors as purely an architectural feature — to ‘pretty up’ the property – without giving much thought to their two most fundamental safety functions: first, to protect the opening and keep people from accidentally falling into the shaft when the car is not there, and, second, to prevent fire from moving floor to floor in an open shaft, which, in effect, acts like a giant chimney. Fire safety remains a critical and, sometimes, restrictive factor in the design and functionality of today’s aesthetic adventurism. The design challenge for oversized entrances is to overcome some of the legacy restrictions, while maintaining safety and support of continually advancing architectural trends.”

Before drywall was used in the construction of multistory buildings, elevator entrances were designed and built for the then-prevailing masonry construction of openings, which required that only the doors, and not the frames, have a fire-safety label. In a masonry application, it is allowable to construct a fire-rated opening with just fire-rated doors and no frame at all, as long as the code-required door-to-wall gap and overlaps around the doors are maintained. However, frames nonetheless have oᴀen been used in masonry environments because of the precision they contribute to the ἀt of components. When openings are cut into a preexisting masonry wall, it is very difficult - if not impossible - to achieve perfect alignment between elevator-car and hatch-side components. is alignment situation is ameliorated by the use of steel frames, which are installed prior to the wall construction and act to ensure elevator-equipment alignment. In such masonry circumstances, only the doors require UL labeling, while masonry “alignment” frames do not. A subsequent step forward in fireproof construction came with the invention of drywall, which became highly popular due to its lower cost and weight, faster installation speed, and allowable design flexibility. In a fire-rated shaft, drywall construction is composed of a 1-in.-thick shaft-wall liner on the shaft side and two thinner sheets of 5/8-in.-thick drywall on the corridor side with an air space between. The fact that fire could work its way into that so-called “interstitial” space required capping the ends between the shaft-wall liner and the corridor liners whenever penetrations are cut into a drywall system to gain access to the shaft.

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