Touchless elevators

Jumping through hoops for touchless elevators in NYC

The post pandemic world calls for novel solutions to limit the spread of infectious viruses. One such solution is a touchless elevator. While the industry is making rapid strides, the regulatory environment is slow to adapt. Here is an example of how a design team had to jump through hoops to get a building permit for touchless elevators in New York City.

Design challenge

The design team for a new 58 story building in the Hudson Yards proposed touchless elevators to mitigate the risks of Covid-19 type pandemic in the future. However, the building permit application was denied because it did not comply with applicable codes and standards related to elevator construction. The team was asked to apply for a variance from NYC’s elevator standard (ASME A17.1 SECTION

Schindler's touchless system
Schindler’s shuttle mode touchless system. Source: Schindler Elevators Product Brochure

Shuttle elevators

The project involved the use of shuttle elevators between main lobby floors and sky lobbies. The elevators would automatically shuttle back and forth, eliminating the need for pressing any buttons. In absence of any waiting passengers, the elevators would park at preprogrammed top or bottom floors with doors wide open. The problem was that NYC’s elevator standard (ASME A17.1-2003) required the doors to remain closed when parked at a landing. The design team requested a waiver to allow them to keep the elevator doors in open position when parked at a landing.

Touchless elevators

Touchless elevators are ideal for large high-rise buildings such as commercial office buildings or multi-family residential buildings.  In addition to improving user experience, such elevators reduce the spread of Covid-19 type viruses by avoiding contact with elevator fixtures and buttons.  The elevator industry has been making rapid strides with touchless technologies.  For example, Hitachi is marketing a touchless operating panel that replaces floor buttons normally found in an elevator car.  Their touchless operating panels have been installed at Tokyo Midtown Yaesu, which was completed in August 2022.  Schindler’s Touchless Elevator Operation uses a shuttle mode which transports tenants and visitors from floor to floor, without touching any buttons—inside or outside the elevator.

Variance approval

Clearly, touchless elevators are the future of vertical transportation in multi-story buildings. NYC eventually approved the request for a variance acknowledging that their newly adopted elevator standard (ASME A17.1-2013) would not require elevator doors to remain closed while the car is at a landing. Problem solved.

Variance requests approved in 2022

The variance process in NYC is known as Construction Code Determination process.  You can review the request and approval form for this and other projects here.  This is an excellent resource for an architect/engineer, filing representative, code consultant, building owner, or developer to become familiar with the types of issues that require jumping through hoops in NYC.   

Title image:  Photo by Matias N Reyes on Unsplash

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