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Our father who art in elevator shafts
October 4, 2007 10:58 AM   Subscribe

A Paternoster lift [wiki] is a cyclic elevator with "an endless chain of cabins moving at a moderate speed; some passing downward past a line of entrances and other cages moving upward past another set of openings. Passengers may embark or alight at any floor whenever they please, without delay. " (As seen on TV!) They're still in use in the the Czech Republic, Germany, Austria, and the UK among other places. (Via this list of interesting elevators.)
posted by dersins (58 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite

 
(They may look dangerous, but don't worry-- ambulance chasers are on the case!)
posted by dersins at 11:00 AM on October 4, 2007


The very prospect of such an elevator has always secretly terrified me. I remain convinced it's possible for a normal elevator to behave this way, carrying me over the top and dumping me into the waiting tines of a thousand spinning forks.
posted by aramaic at 11:04 AM on October 4, 2007


I remember seeing one of these in a movie a long time ago. (It wasn't listed in the Wiki piece- IIRC it was a comedy and Swedish) It struck me that it looked dangerous to get on or off.
(And that maybe Pater Noster would be the prayer you say before attempting it)
posted by MtDewd at 11:08 AM on October 4, 2007


Sounds like a wonkavator to me.
posted by ND¢ at 11:12 AM on October 4, 2007


Cool post dersins, I've never heard of these before. The over the top potential does seem a bit scary, particularly in sue-happy America. This could be solved by making it work like a Ferris wheel.
posted by doctor_negative at 11:12 AM on October 4, 2007


I've seen a thing similar to a Paternoster lift, but even a bit scarier, installed in a modern parking garage in the U.S. (If anyone has a serious elevator fetish I think it's in Ballston, VA, in the garage behind the Melting Pot restaurant.)

Basically it was a very wide rubber belt, maybe 12", with a foot plate riveted on every eight feet or so. (There might have been some sort of handhold attached, too.) It passed up and down through a series of manhole-like holes in the floor, so that on each floor there was a side going up and a side going down. It looked basically like when it was operating, if you wanted to get on you just jumped onto one of the plates and let it take you up through the hole to the next floor.

It was obviously there for the maintenance people, not the general public, but was still fairly interesting. I'd never seen anything quite like it, particularly since this garage couldn't have been more than 10-15 years old.
posted by Kadin2048 at 11:19 AM on October 4, 2007


Sweet post! I'd never heard of these either. Though, not as freaky as a manlift.
posted by Terminal Verbosity at 11:22 AM on October 4, 2007


I support these elevators that will help eliminate the stupid and careless rather than coddle them with electronic eyes.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 11:23 AM on October 4, 2007 [1 favorite]


Heh, on non-preview, I believe these are referred to as manlifts, Kadin (though googling is hampered by the fact that that is a common name for cherry-pickers or boom lifts as well). The only one I've seen is in the garage of the Marina City towers in Chicago.
posted by Terminal Verbosity at 11:28 AM on October 4, 2007


Somehow I ended up checking these out a few months back - one of those strange wikipedia-wanders, from one link to the next - and was fascinated. I have to try one. I always wanted to ride my grandfather's hay elevator (similar to what Kadin2048 and Terminal Verbosity are talking about above, but on an angle with chains) as a child, but was held back by the deathly fear of getting my arms and legs ripped off by it.
posted by pupdog at 11:30 AM on October 4, 2007


I interviewed at a place that had one of these a couple of times. I was always kind of curious as to what would happen if you just stayed in it - would you get squished at the top? I didn't get the job, so I didn't get to experiment.
posted by Artw at 11:33 AM on October 4, 2007


(The diagram would seem to indicate that you just come down the other side. How... boring. And non squishy.)
posted by Artw at 11:34 AM on October 4, 2007


Of course, if you don't time your exit properly, or are indecisive, you get squished between the elevator floor and the ceiling of the building, or vice versa. Ouch.
posted by The World Famous at 11:37 AM on October 4, 2007


doctor_negative writes "This could be solved by making it work like a Ferris wheel."

That is how they work: the car stays upright going over the top.
posted by mr_roboto at 11:41 AM on October 4, 2007


Those elevators are very close to something my dad used to tell me about being used in various mines he'd worked in.

I recall it being called something like a moving ladder.

Upon review ...

What Terminal Verboisty posts, a Manlift, but these were a little bit archaic.

And speaking of archaic , pupdog, I remember a war buddy of my dad's using an old hay elevator that had a power-take-off from an equally old tractor that was delivered via a fucking canvas belt.

The whole rig was part of the family corn farm since the 1930s.

Apart from routine maintenance, that whole mechanical system had been working consistently for the better part fifty years.

Well I found it impressive anyway ...
posted by Relay at 11:45 AM on October 4, 2007


I always remember this sort of lift from the hospital in the Omen, when one of the characters (a doctor?) falls into the lift shaft. They've scared me ever since...
posted by patricio at 11:49 AM on October 4, 2007


Has anybody ever read Colson Whitehead's book, The Intuitionist? It's a fantastic book, about an imagined (presumably) ideological divide between two factions of NYC elevator inspectors/maintenance guys. One faction are the Empiricists, the other lot are Intuitionists.

I wonder what both factions would have made of the paternoster?
posted by PeterMcDermott at 11:50 AM on October 4, 2007


This is a great idea because it means that you'd never have to share an elevator with anybody.

The other day, I had to share an elevator with a dude who was flossing his teeth.

Flossing. his. teeth.
posted by Afroblanco at 11:52 AM on October 4, 2007 [2 favorites]


I remember these, from universities in London. If you go around the ends, you just re-emerge on the other side going in the opposite direction. Uneventful, but it feels quite dangerous.
posted by carter at 11:52 AM on October 4, 2007


Thanks TV, I was trying to figure out what that was called. There was a manlift in a parking garage in DC I used to use, I think in Foggy Bottom somewhere.
posted by MtDewd at 12:04 PM on October 4, 2007


The Finnish Parliament building has one, and it's featured in this rap music video by other ministers for president Tarja Halonen for a recent campaign.
posted by taursir at 12:13 PM on October 4, 2007 [1 favorite]



This is a great idea because it means that you'd never have to share an elevator with anybody.

The other day, I had to share an elevator with a dude who was flossing his teeth.

Flossing. his. teeth.
posted by Afroblanco



This is why we need 'no flossing'
signs in elevators.
posted by notreally at 12:20 PM on October 4, 2007 [2 favorites]


There was one in the Chemistry building at Imperial College, London.
After stating at it for a while I convinced myself that if anything really bad happened at the top there would probably be at least a warning sign.
After a couple of false starts I managed to get on at the top floor going up.
Then I discovered there was a gap between what logic told me and what my mind and body believed.
It seemed to take a very long time before I started to come down the other side without the walls closing in, or being mangled in machinery.
I went back to Computing where we had stairs.
posted by yetanother at 12:33 PM on October 4, 2007


Terminal Velocity nailed it; the thing I saw in the garage was definitely a Manlift.
posted by Kadin2048 at 12:44 PM on October 4, 2007


The Rathaus in Stuttgart has one (or did, anyway, 10 years or so ago). I rode it all the way around a couple times. People would stick gum way up at the top above the last floor.
posted by backseatpilot at 12:51 PM on October 4, 2007


Re yetanother's comment, the paternoster in the IC Chemistry building was hastily removed in the mid-1980s when someone foolishly tried to carry a plank into it, with spectacularly gory and terminal consequences.

What was it about Imperial College and weird lifts? The Physics building had a goods lift that looked exactly like the one the Queen emerges from in Aliens...
posted by Major Clanger at 12:56 PM on October 4, 2007


They had one at Aston University in Birmingham when I was there in the seventies.

The whole post has missed out on two very important qualities of the paternoster lift:

1. On the top floor, especially in fresher's week when there are lots of new students, it's good to go over the top and come down standing on your head screaming, or lying in a collapsed, moaning heap.
(I preferred standing on my head against the wall reading a newspaper as though that was what always happened.)

2. If you stand close in you can totally see up girl's skirts as they go up.


Life seems so much more complicated now.
posted by surfdad at 1:07 PM on October 4, 2007 [6 favorites]


I used to work at the Danish Parliament where one of these is installed. They said it's called a Paternoster because if you don't get off in time it'll take you all the way to 'our father.'

I remember the first time I took it 'all the way around' -- I knew nothing was going to happen, but couldn't help being quite nervous nonetheless. They're quite fun to ride, but it's easy to look like a right old fool when getting on and off until you learn to time it right.

Another anecdote I was told about this particular elevator was that it once stopped for a couple of hours, and with a particular member of parliament known for his volatile temper stuck inside it (right between two floors). Apparently you could hear his angry harangues in the whole building.
posted by AwkwardPause at 1:10 PM on October 4, 2007


There is one in the Arts Tower at the University of Sheffield. When I was there in the '70s, I was brave enough to ride all the way to the top to see what happened (you'd be surprised how many weren't). Of course, what you'd expect happened: the cubicle stays upright, like a Ferris Wheel car, goes over the top and descends. But it was still pretty scary, because it happened in total darkness, and with an accompaniment of many loud, weird and grating noises.
posted by ubiquity at 1:28 PM on October 4, 2007


I used to ride one at the University of Vienna in 1988 or so. Some joker stenciled footprints on the ceiling.
posted by bobbarnesmn at 1:46 PM on October 4, 2007


What's a manlift?
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 2:06 PM on October 4, 2007


It seems like they were popular in Europe, but not in the US. Wonder why?
posted by smackfu at 2:08 PM on October 4, 2007


What's a manlift?

$20SAIT
posted by dersins at 2:13 PM on October 4, 2007 [1 favorite]


Thank you.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 2:21 PM on October 4, 2007


So that's what that cool thing in The Prisoner was. I had no idea it had a name.
posted by oneirodynia at 3:07 PM on October 4, 2007


I can't see one of these without thinking of Van Der Valk.
posted by athenian at 3:42 PM on October 4, 2007


I was at Sheffield Uni in the 80s... there was lots of talk of freaking out the freshers in the Arts Tower Paternosta by doing handstands next to them 'just in case we go over the top!'.

One thing is they did seem to keep traffic moving better than conventional lifts when you have to shift a lot of people at the end of lectures etc.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 4:07 PM on October 4, 2007


I rode one once when visiting the Marconi facility in Beeston, UK. It felt a little tricky timing the jump in and out. After they were acquired by Ericsson they stopped letting visitors ride it. Bummer.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 4:33 PM on October 4, 2007


I'm surprised they're legal, tbh. They don't seem all that wheelchair-accessible ...
posted by kaemaril at 4:43 PM on October 4, 2007


Where I work we have dozens of manlifts, and they are awesome. Much better than stairs, and they aren't freaky or scary by any stretch of the imagination. Sushi is pretty freaky too since, after all, it's raw fish, and that's weird. If you have to cover a lot of floors like in a grain elevator, it's really ideal. No waiting for an elevator since there's a step every 15 seconds or so. It's a very efficient way of moving a few, but not a lot, of people. The only people that would find them scary or freaky are the really uncoordinated, and those with extreme fear of heights. There are always stairs for people who don't want to ride them (and for contractors that won't allow their workers to do so), but to me some of the stairs are much more scary being catwalk grating stairs outside the buildings.

Riding them easy. You just stand by the hole where the step comes through, grab the red handle, and step onto the moving step. There are limit switches at the top and bottom so you can't override the lift, it just shuts down, and when traveling up there's a switch at each floor in case you do something stupid so you won't get smashed between the step and the ceiling. There's also a pull rope that will shut down the lift. All you have to do is grab it, and the motion of the step shuts off the lift. You don't even have to remember to pull in the direction of travel.

They are a joy to ride being quiet and smooth. Take a small step and you are gliding to your destination.
posted by Eekacat at 6:06 PM on October 4, 2007 [1 favorite]


kaemaril, in the US they would only be illegal if there were no other means to get to the destinations serviced. Where I am employed there are elevators to anywhere where a handicapped person would need to go.
posted by Eekacat at 6:11 PM on October 4, 2007


Am I the only one here who rode the Paternosters in the I.G. Farben building in Frankfurt?
posted by atchafalaya at 6:21 PM on October 4, 2007


Eekacat: Well, sure. But, I mean, why have these gizmos, stairs, and lifts (aka elevators). Why have three? Why not save money by having only stairs and lifts? Why have a third option? It seems extravagant.

According to this photo: Disabled or infirm persons or children must not travel in this paternoster.

Seems, with a warning like that, that it would be something you'd want to replace with a lift pdq. Incident waiting to happen.
posted by kaemaril at 7:02 PM on October 4, 2007


Eekacat: Well, sure. But, I mean, why have these gizmos, stairs, and lifts (aka elevators). Why have three? Why not save money by having only stairs and lifts? Why have a third option? It seems extravagant.

If you have to make ten or twenty trips up and down a 15 story plant during your eight hour shift you sure don't want to run up and down stairs and you certainly don't want to wait for the elevator. (At least nobody in our plant did.)
Manlifts are the jinkies!
posted by speug at 8:06 PM on October 4, 2007


taursir:
The Finnish Parliament building has one, and it's featured in this rap music video by other ministers for president Tarja Halonen for a recent campaign.

Brilliant. If only they did this in the states.
posted by sebastienbailard at 8:15 PM on October 4, 2007


I always remember this sort of lift from the hospital in the Omen, when one of the characters (a doctor?) falls into the lift shaft. They've scared me ever since...

Yes patricio! I remember that too... the nuns getting on and off the paternoster in the Omen was scary enough for me - in fact, that's all I remember from that film.
posted by ameca at 8:30 PM on October 4, 2007


kaemaril writes "But, I mean, why have these gizmos, stairs, and lifts (aka elevators). Why have three? Why not save money by having only stairs and lifts? Why have a third option? It seems extravagant. "

Elevators are really, really poor means of traversing a dozen floors when the traffic is periodic. Like when 90% of the traffic happens in 10 minutes each hour during class change. However it'd be pretty impossible to take a pallet jack on a paternoster. And stairs are required because sometimes the electricity service fails.
posted by Mitheral at 9:19 PM on October 4, 2007


I badly want to find one, just so that I can be seen riding up to the top, and on reaching the top section out of sight I can stand on my head and be seen coming back down the other side upside down with a scared expression on my face.
posted by edd at 2:34 AM on October 5, 2007


fearfulsymmetry - that stills happens. Today.

The paternoster is in Europe's tallest educational building I believe "The Arts Tower" in Sheffield and it makes lift riding much more fun: jumping out as early as possible, fitting >5 people in, pulling the "safety" emergency stop cord at every possible opportunity. And oh the worried faces.

It is very slow.

But - it is ideal for going up 4 or 5 floors. Just not up to the 19th.
posted by takeyourmedicine at 3:43 AM on October 5, 2007


I saw one by accident, in an employee-only area in either Kardstadt or Kaufhof, in Duesseldorf, Germany (a door was open that was supposed to be closed). I desperately wanted to ride the thing. I do have the elevator fetish (if by 'fetish', you mean life-long fascination).

There is a silly 1-floor elevator at a shop in the Netherlands. It is octagonal, and between ground and upper floor (called 'first', in Europe) it rotates 180 degrees to open on the opposite side. It's glass, of course. Silly fancy thing, breaks down often. (location: Zwei Brudder von Venlo, Venlo. A grocery store).
posted by Goofyy at 3:45 AM on October 5, 2007


takeyourmedicine, good to see the old traditions carrying on.

A knew a college that was mainly two tower blocks with conventional lifts... and it was an total nightmare at the end of each lecture, with dozens of students on every floor trying to use the lift at the same time.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 4:25 AM on October 5, 2007


Wow, how did I miss fearfulsymmetry's comment earlier? I spent ages crawling the comments to check if someone had had the thought, and still missed it.
posted by edd at 4:25 AM on October 5, 2007


When my dad was working as a contractor for BP (70s? 80s?) he was involved in removing the paternosters from their building in Harlow. They were shut down one day following an incident that no-one (and I mean no-one would even hint at. I used to have nightmares about body parts doing laps in one of those things until someone could find the kill switch.

Then I got to university and the main humanities building had one that went all the way up its 20 floors. I got quite fit that term. They had stairs and this thing and no lift...

Quite frequently a delivery driver would ignore the "no freight" signs and drive a loaded sack barrow onto the paternoster and then get stuck doing laps 'til the students found him...
posted by twine42 at 5:23 AM on October 5, 2007


I don't see why they couldn't be perfectly safe. Some sort of electric eye to stop it if something is going to get squished and a "pause at next stop" button for disabled/scaredycats. Great post.
posted by Rock Steady at 7:16 AM on October 5, 2007


I know I'm going to have nightmares about these things tonight.
posted by schwa at 7:27 AM on October 5, 2007


Oh why did I watch the videos...? The second UK one was the one at my Uni. *shudder*

Of course, it doesn't help that the building it's in once started to fall down. Not the dramatic, "crash, bang, big cloud of dust" kind, but the embarrassing "creak groan, let people dash in for books before the fire brigade gets here" kind of thing.

They fixed it, but the building still moves a hell of a lot when it's windy...
posted by twine42 at 8:09 AM on October 5, 2007


Cool post! Since my first ride on the one in the Vienna Ringturm I've always wondered what the consequences of staying too long in one would be.

My girlfriend refuses to ride the one in the Neues Institut Gebäude / NIG (warning: link to pdf illustration of the building). The paternoster lift is the column marked "A" in the top, right corner of the linked illustration.
posted by syzygy at 8:35 AM on October 5, 2007


I've ridden the university one in Vienna, too -- scary at first, but lots of fun! Personally, I found the (regular) elevator to the top of St. Stephen's cathedral creepier... just a little too small for my taste.
posted by bitter-girl.com at 9:19 AM on October 5, 2007


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