The humble elevator rarely makes itself noticed apart from when it goes wrong (hey look, there’s Stephen Fry stuck in the Centre Point elevator!) Quotidian as lift travel may be, and anodyne as most elevators are, there are a few around London whose design or flair takes them above the ordinary. We salute them in this post.
In no particular order, here are some of the finest lifts in London. Know any better ones? Drop us a note in the comments.
Quite a good few of the 141 lifts across the Tube network could be eligible for inclusion in this list. But we’ve gone for just the one: the remaining Otis lift at Aldwych. Installed when the station first opened its doors in 1907, the lifts were one of the main reasons that Aldywch was closed for good in 1994, as replacing them would have cost millions, a sum not justifiable given the station’s sparse footfall. The lift no longer works, and access to it is rare, although there are a number of tours taking place this November and December.
In the 1920s a beautiful Art Deco lift was installed at Selfridges, complete with glamorous female operators. Regrettably it is no longer operational; indeed it is no longer in Selfridges – it’s one of the central attractions at the Museum of London’s 20th Century Gallery. However, Selfridges does get a few extra slivers of elevator kudos for the book-lined lift that whisked people to the rooftop for the Truvia boating lake during the summer.
Lloyds of London
The key to this bastion of high-tech architecture was its inside-out design: all the services were strung around the outside of the building, leaving the cavernous insides relatively uncluttered. The most conspicuous aspect of this are the lifts, glass boxes that crawl up and down the walls like rectilinear albino beetles. Aside from the vertigo, the elevators also offer great views of the City. The new Heron tower on Bishopsgate has lifts on its south façade through which you can see out of the building, but Lloyds was there first and did it better.
Among the former Post Office Tower’s many attributes is that it boasts two of the fastest lifts in Europe, which whisk visitors to the top in just 30 seconds at a blistering top speed of 7 metres per second. The Tower has a further accolade: it is the only building in the country which, in the event of a fire, should be evacuated by lift, and not the stairs (though contrary to some reports, the Tower does have an internal staircase).
Northwick Park hospital
For elevator connoisseurs, the sina qua non of lift-making is the Paternoster. These ever-moving mechanisms are increasingly rare, due to health and safety, and there is only one working example left in London, at Northwick Park hospital. Your chances of riding it are slim, though, as it is for use by staff members only. Thanks to Ian Visits for spotting the video below, which shows the lift in all its glory.
This otherwise humdrum lift does offer a remarkable vantage across the length and breadth of Thomas Heatherwick’s Bleigiessen sculpture, as shown in this video:
One New Change
While this might be a controversial choice — plenty loathe the City’s new shopping mall — riding in the glass elevator to the rooftop terrace does afford one of the finest views of St. Paul’s Cathedral to be found in London. Here’s a video of the ride:
We might be in a slightly sticky area with this disabled access elevator on the north end of the Millennium Bridge; according to Ian Visits, who wrote an excellent blog post about it last year, it’s technically classed as a funicular railway. Still, if it looks like a lift, and sounds like a lift, then it’s probably a lift, so we’ll keep it in. If you want to visit it in its current state, best be quick – it’s about to be replaced, to the tune of £750,000, as it has a frustrating habit of breaking down and being attacked by vandals.
Royal Festival Hall
In 2010 Martin Creed recreated his Work No.409 in a glass lift at the Royal Festival Hall. As the cab descends or ascends, the voices of Birmingham’s Ex Cathedra choir the Southbank Centre’s Voicelab choir rise or fall in time with the journey. Here’s a video of it in action (the lift is also on Twitter):
As part of the London Festival of Architecture in 2010, a Zero Carbon Lift was built at the Duke of York steps. Being solar powered of course, it didn’t function all too cleverly. Still, kudos for trying.
This lift at the Hospital Club in Covent Garden has some jape-tastic messages inside.
Not only does King’s Cross station boast the most complex network of lifts in the known universe, it also has the capital’s shortest lift shaft, at 2.3m (the deepest shaft, at 52.2m, is at Hampstead station).