Car interiors: focus on aesthetic design

 In Standards

I’ve noticed a recent increase in manufacturer’s focus upon the aesthetic design of lift car interiors. On reflection it seems to me that this is an area of lift design which has in recent years stagnated, due perhaps to a focus upon other widespread developments in engineering and technology application. Indeed, the last significant development in this area was by Otis during the early 1990s with its Otis 2000 lift design, applying a minimalist concept which incorporates vertical lighting in the side walls of the lift car. At the time this was considered highly innovative and novel and proved popular with architects and designers.I’ve noticed a recent increase in manufacturer’s focus upon the aesthetic design of lift car interiors. On reflection it seems to me that this is an area of lift design which has in recent years stagnated, due perhaps to a focus upon other widespread developments in engineering and technology application. Indeed, the last significant development in this area was by Otis during the early 1990s with its Otis 2000 lift design, applying a minimalist concept which incorporates vertical lighting in the side walls of the lift car. At the time this was considered highly innovative and novel and proved popular with architects and designers.

Standards limit the design
My inclination is that an unforeseen effect of EN 81-70: 2003 has been to restrict the development of aesthetics in lift design. It may be the case that EN 81-70 is overly prescriptive in its drafting and approach, or perhaps it is the case that interpretations differ. Indeed, I have encountered instances of contractors claiming that certain provisions of EN 81-70, and its status as a Harmonised Standard are such as to prohibit the use of the traditional UK floor designations of Ground ‘G’, Lower Ground ‘LG’ and Mezzanine ‘M’ (and other client specific floor designations) in lift designs.In one instance a client had numerous buildings on a site, a large number of which incorporated G, LG and M floors. Perhaps it was the contractor’s expectation that the client should re-designate all of these buildings together with the associated access signage in order to accommodate the contractor’s standard numeric floor designation and EN 81-70? If it was then the contractor was to be disappointed. The prospect of losing the contract was sufficient to initiate a return to sanity with the lift design revised to incorporate LG, G and M floor designations.Another instance relates to the location of the lift car interior handrail. BS EN 81-70, at c., states that “At least on one side wall of the car a handrail shall be installed”. A contractor argued that this statement is prescriptive in relation to the position of the handrail, which it argues must be installed on a ‘sidewall’ as opposed for instance to the rear wall. The UK Building Regulations, in relation to Accessibility at c.3.28(f), states that ‘a handrail is provided on at least one wall’, and Figure 1, which provides a depiction of a compliant passenger lift car, shows the handrail installed to the rear wall. Whilst a sidewall provides, in my opinion, the most appropriate location for the handrail, it seems little less than pedantry to interpret the EN 81-70 provision to be prescriptive in this respect. Indeed, the translation of the requirement in other EC Member States gives rise to a difference in meaning and interpretation. Given that lift cars may be configured with a single door, two doors or three doors, an attempt to apply such a prescriptive interpretation is simply ridiculous, and ignores the overriding purpose which is to aid access.


Materials over decades
Whilst many of the materials used in modern lift aesthetics are taken for granted we should remember that many of these are relatively recent innovations and developments. Consider for instance the ubiquitous application of stainless steels applied in lift car and landing entrance finishes. Yet stainless steel was developed only in the first two decades of the last Century and did not become widespread in lift applications until the early 1970s. Indeed, the promotional materials of the time offer stainless steel as a premium finish option involving additional costs.The penchant in the 1940s and 1950s was for timber wall finishes and bronze and/or bronze alloy metallic materials. Door finishes were more often in different forms of paint or enamel like material coatings, although I have encountered automatically operating centre-opening doors of solid timber panels.The 1960s saw a move to laminate faced lift car wall panels, often from the Formica range. This developed further through the 1960s and into the 1980s by way of so called real-wood laminates. Some of the original Formica designs are themselves considered to be collectable. In addition the prevalent material specified for the Standard Housing lift designs specified by public authorities through the late 1950s to the late 1970s was the ubiquitous fluted aluminium. Whilst this material provided certain advantages in terms of its low mass to volume ratio and in its formability, it also presented a number of problems, particularly in relation to chemical and electrolytic corrosion, and was eventually replaced as the preferred material for such applications when suitable stainless steel sheet became more widely available in the late 1970s.

In terms of lighting incandescent lamps prevailed until the late 1950s when florescent lighting became the favoured design.This design persisted in various forms through until the late 1980s when dichromic down-lights found favour with the design subsequently evolving to incorporate various LED technologies.

In terms of floor finishes my experience is that the Lino finish widely applied during the period covering the 1940s through the 1960s provides the most resilient service. However, floor finishes evolved through various rubber, polymer, carpet, timber laminates and marble effects. Indeed, I recall a few marble and stone lift car floors undergoing a significant and unplanned redesign during safety gear and buffer testing.A number of interesting materials have been applied in relation to finishes. I recall contracts in which the use of specialist metallic materials including those produced by Cambridge Wire Cloth Co. of Maryland in the USA (see Figure 1 by way of an example) was a design requirement.Sometimes the application of what appear to be straightforward stainless steel finishes can generate some interesting issues. I recall an instance in which three landing entrances in the lobby of the offices of prominent corporate organisation were re-clad applying a standard linished stainless steel. On completion the client’s designer noted the stainless steel on one of the entrances to be of a different colour. The material, in terms of grade, pattern and finish, was identical for each entrance. However, the difference, which was almost imperceptible, was immediately picked-up by the trained eye of the designer. The difference arose due to the stainless steel for the entrance in question having been drawn from a different production batch. Fortunately, the designer, who might have rejected the work, was most understanding in accepting what was agreed to be a minor difference.

Prestigious works
Lifts installed in prestigious premises often incorporated highly decorative door panels (Figure 2). A few years ago I was asked to provide advice in relation to a contract in which new lifts were designed for installation into a listed building, in which the original lift landing doors were the subject of a separate and specific architectural listing.The building, located in Birmingham, was designed in the classical style during the 1930s and completed during the 1940s and was originally envisaged to form part of a centre-piece civic amenity, which was never completed due to the outbreak of World War II.The architectural listing affected eight landing entrances installed at the Ground and First floors of the original four-car group serving the six floor building. The building was to be extended upwards by two floors and the existing lift arrangement to be converted to a six-car system, albeit that only the eight original lift entrances were subject to the specific architectural listing. The revised building design, which incorporated an atrium, precluded modernisation of the lifts and a traditional machine room design. As such an MRL design, which would fall within the remit of the Lifts Regulations No. 831, 1997, was the required solution.A problem arose in relation to the surface of the landing door panels which incorporated sunken decorative quarter panels, with raised decorative insert features, which were in excess of the 3 mm limit prescribed at c.7.5.1 of BS EN 81-1: 1998 c.7.5.1. Each of the quarter panels incorporates a silver insert plaque depicting different aspects of the City’s commercial, manufacturing and trade activities, some of which are shown in the images here below.Whilst the main contractor and lift contractor initially resisted the requirement to retain the landing door panels, suggesting alternative ways in which the doors might have been retained as alternative architectural features separate of the new lift system, the Historical Architect, who considered the door panels and their incorporation in the 1930s lobbies to be of national importance, insisted upon the retention of these in the lift system. The effect of the resulting stand-off was such that progress with the construction works, which were well underway at the time, could have been halted.A number of possible solutions were considered, none of which were acceptable to all of the parties. Finally, a compromise was developed whereby the door panels at the Ground and First floors were incorporated into the new lifts. This required a revision to the design of the affected landing entrances and uprating of the lift door operator and door equipment. The problem of compliance with c.7.5.1 of EN 81-1 was resolved by filling the surface of the door panels with a transparent liquid polymer material which, once this had set, presented a flush surface finish whilst maintaining the visual aesthetic of the decorative door panels.I recall another incidence of pure panic when the Client Engineer of a global corporate attended to view a completed lift car interior on the day prior to the publicised and high profile visit of the Chairman and CEO. We couldn’t understand the howl of anguish which emerged as he caught sight of the beautiful lift car interior and its wall mirror which was artistically embossed in bright colour with the corporate’s family trade name emblazoned across the rear wall. Until of course he pointed out, in not quite polite terms, that the corporate trade name did not have an ‘‘S” on its end! Needless to say a rapid overnight rework and an early start next morning saved the day.

A good consultant develops a knowledge of design and aesthetic requirements such as to advise clients in relation to the application of materials and the technical aspects of certain aesthetic styles and the related technical and engineering factors which include, materials engineering and metallurgical factors in relation to the application of different metals and materials and the suitability of these for application in specific operating environments and in terms of flammability, behaviour under fire conditions, mass to volume ratio, ergonomic factors, sustainability, energy efficiency, human psychological and emotional factors, and suitability to meet the purpose of the design. I see a lot of lifts in my work and I would certainly welcome a little more innovation and variation in terms of aesthetics. Whilst it is perhaps understandable in terms of standardisation and a desire on the part of manufacturers to reduce variation in product ranges, the marketing potential and attractiveness of a well thought through and executed aesthetic should never be underestimated.

Biographical notes
Colin Craney has 38-years industry experience, initially with Otis Elevator Co. and more recently with Dunbar & Boardman. Colin is a UK Chartered Engineer and Fellow of CIBSE, European Engineer, Chartered Safety and Health Practitioner, Accredited Consultant on the HSE Occupational Safety and Health Consultants Register (OSHCR) and is a Member of the Chartered Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH). Colin is a Barrister, having been called to the Bar by the Honourable Society of the Middle Temple. Colin is a Member of the Charted Institute of Arbitrators, and is a Chartered Manager and Fellow of the Chartered Management Institute. Areas of interest and expertise include the EC Directives, law and regulatory compliance applicable to the lift industry, management, health and safety in the lift industry, CDM 2015 Principal Designer, lift and escalator related dilapidations and Landlord & Tenant disputes, competition and intellectual property law, incident and failure investigation, dispute resolution and Expert Witness. Colin Craney is a Consulting and Forensic Engineer with Dunbar & Boardman, the UK’s largest and foremost vertical transportation consultancy, and may be contacted at:

Colin J. Craney
Dunbar & Boardman
London, UK