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Zero-Clearance Entrances in NYC

The 100 elevator entrances provided by Columbia make both developers and tenants smile.

Friday, February 9, 2018

by Ralph M. Newman

Source: Elevator World

Bank of two zero clearance elevators at 520 West 28 St, New York CityStart spreadin’ the news: New York City (NYC) has recently added yet another iconic structure to its skyline, this one in the ultra-chic WestChelsea area. Located immediately adjacent to the High Line, at 520 West 28th Street, this property is often referred to as the Zaha Hadid building, an homage to the architect who personally designed it. Embodying Hadid’s futuristic “mathematically inspired curving buildings” approach, this building was her first residential project in NYC and among the last before her passing in March 2016.

In keeping with its West Chelsea location — a cultural hotspot — the building’s offerings include a number of street-level art galleries and asculpture garden created with support from Friends of the High Line. Typical of today’s trend toward ultra-luxury environments, the building features amenities such as a swimming pool, a private 3D IMAX screening room and advanced air-filtration system. It also includes 100 elevator entrances provided by Columbia Elevator Products Co., Inc., delivered in prime for customized architectural adaptation to the surroundings of each entrance. Of note is the fact that they all are “zero-clearance” entrances.

The use of zero-clearance entrances has long been a subject of confusion, particularly because they are unique to NYC. Fire-safety codes typically involve Phase I and II. In Phase I, when smoke is detected, all elevators cease up-and-down operation, redirect to the evacuation floor and shut down. In Phase II, firefighters have access to special keys, allowing them to manually assume elevator operation and direct cars to the floor most advantageous to fighting the fire. If, for any reason, the Phase II key is turned off, the door either does not open, or reverses direction and closes.

Everywhere other than NYC, Phase I and II prevent a landing from being locked out of service. NYC became the exception because of its unique real-estate environment, particularly relating to luxury high-rise residential construction and some unique commercial applications. As is often the case, such situations became governed by matters of revenue and profitability. Market forces made it desirable toinstall elevators exclusive to single-occupancy floors in residential buildings. Initially for penthouses, then for lower-level luxury apartments with private elevator service, building owners and managers sought to sell or rent entire floors, including common areas such as had been customarily allocated to an elevator vestibule. But, accomplishing this while adhering to Phases I and II presented a major problem in that it would make the firefighter’s key easily accessible to potential thieves and allow them access to entire private residences.

A first thought to get around this problem was to locate a key near the  single tenant floor, allowing access exclusively to its residents. However, this, in turn, created a much more serious issue: in the event of a fire, the firefighter could not gain entrance. A next thought was to provide all parties access to the exclusive floor but install, in front of the elevator sliding doors, a second, separate swing door that required its own key. While this more aggressively blocked entry by thieves, and a firefighter with an axe could get in, such an arrangement would not be compliant with locked-out-of service code. After much debate about the amount of space that was safe to create between the two door sets, NYC building code came around to allowing use of a swing door mounted in front of an elevator entrance with sliding doors with the most minimal possible space or gap between them. This created the concept of zero-clearance entrances that could yield the desired additional square footage the real estate developers were endeavoring to sell or rent. Says Louis “L.J.” Blaiotta, Jr., Columbia’s CEO, “While many cities allow a second door in front of the sliding doors as a smoke seal, to the best of my knowledge, NYC is  unique in that it permits such swing doors to lock in the closed position.”


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