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These are Fast Elevators, Eddie!

Recently I visited my hometown of Amarillo, Texas, USA in time to go to the Tri State Fair, that annual gathering of folks from the panhandle areas of Texas, Oklahoma and New Mexico. I had not been there since the 1960s when, as a thrill-crazy kid I would play every “rigged game” and ride the wildest rides they had on the Midway. It was just as crazy this time as the last time, but this time I did not get on any of the rides since they seemed to go faster, twirl in multiple dimensions and do everything possible to put riders, mostly teens, on the edge of the “throw up zone." I guess that this is one time that I have become a little older and wiser.

I had my flashback when I was looking at the newest research from the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat done in coordination with the Guinness World Book of Records. The study is called Tall Buildings in Numbers: Vertical Transportation: Ascent & Acceleration and deals with moving people vertically at a speed that approaches the “throw up zone," but doesn’t create an environment that is dangerous to the occupants and residents of these multi-use towers around the globe.

Guinness was there to verify the speed of the elevators for the CTBUH. Let me say that these are not “your dad’s elevators”, those hydraulic monsters that took us slowly up four or five floors. These are elevators whose speeds are measured in meters/sec. They fly up and down towers that are up to 615 meters high. For those of you who do not relate to meters, that is over 2,000 feet up in the air. And the speeds of those elevators are in the range of 20 m/s or 60 plus feet per second: moving the length of a football field vertically in 5 seconds.

According to an article in the Washington Post earlier this year, there is a “surprisingly cutthroat race to build the world’s fastest elevator.”  According to CTBUH, Shanghai Tower currently has the tallest continuous elevator run and it holds the record for the fastest run at 20.5 m/s or over 40 miles per hour, a mind-boggling rate. There are limits though to how fast these speedy elevators can go without causing us mere humans to complain. And the laws of physics tell us that even though the elevator might rise at an amazing rate, the maximum range of descent is in the 10 m/s range to avoid ear popping and entering the “throw up zone" found on those carnival rides we used to ride over and over as kids.

The CTBUH study rated the top systems for speed and for height. Gensler-designed Shanghai Tower tops the list in both categories at 632 meters and 20.5 m/s on its elevator speeds. You can see the other results here.

Thyssen Krupp, one of the leaders in the vertical transportation business is now designing systems that can travel both vertically and horizontally, certainly a new engineering technology that will escalate the game of elevatoring the newest “Tall Buildings” around the world.

For all you world travelers looking for a thrill to add to your bucket list, you might list the highest and fastest elevators in the world. However, you might want to hurry since the technology is changing almost as fast as those elevators speed up and down those tall buildings.