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I have been watching the 154 foot high Vessel’s recent progress with interest and have been curious as to how the ADA compliant elevator sited on the south side of Thomas Heatherwick’s controversial gigantic artwork/sculpture worked. In a previous post I put forward some observations on its possible operation and wasnt too far off. The biggest aspect of the matter was that Heatherwick Studios had alluded their elevator was the first of its kind in the world. I said no, the first person to have wanted elevators that changed direction was Gustave Eiffel – and the technology used in his tower is still in operation after 130 years.

Later in the post I look at the operation of the elevator itself and reveal just who were its designers and the company that was responsible for the assembly of the elevator in New York (because so far no-one knows!) But first let’s have a quick look at grand opening of The Vessel itself…

This was officially opened to great fanfare on 15th March 2019 and the dignitaries were Anderson Cooper (CNN), Senator Chuck Schumer, Stephen Ross (Related Companies), singer Andra Day and of course our own famous Londoner – Thomas Heatherwick.

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Andra Day performing at the opening ceremony. Source: Youtube

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London’s Thomas Heatherwick at the opening ceremony. Source: Youtube

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Thomas Heatherwick with Stephen Ross & others for a photoshoot at the top of The Vessel. Source: Youtube

There’s a fair bit of stuff on the Vessel’s opening ceremony, even our own national papers managed to do some coverage. The Guardian had an interview with Thomas Heatherwick a couple of days ago on his latest achievement.

As for that lift (I’ll stick to ‘elevator’ for the purpose of this post…) in terms of those that change direction the concept is nothing new, also we now have elevators on test in Germany that go up and down or sideways in any way or any combination they choose except these are powered by linear motors.

See this report from Tom Scott for example. It may be that we are entering a phase where elevators become self propelled rather than dependent on a centrally located unit (cable haulage and motors) if there is to be great choice of routes and more flexibility. Its not only that – the height of buildings as they increase will make classical elevator systems obsolete because the cable systems become far too heavy.

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This picture clearly shows the bogie mounted underneath the elevator car itself. Source: Youtube

Who built this elevator? Well that’s a good question – and its a difficult one! I was quite stumped by it. Did Heatherwick Studios design the elevator? They haven’t told me much however I think they put forward the basic outline of how it should look and work and it was then left to other specialists to do the rest – including the actual engineering design.

I put the question again to Heatherwick Studios recently and they have informed me the elevator was designed by Cimolai Technologies who are a subsidiary of the Italian manufacturing company responsible for much of the manufacture of The Vessel itself. This doesn’t really answer the questions I had sought however but at least with the other research I have done, there is a more complete picture of the whole thing.

Basically it transpires that much in the same way the entire structure itself was manufactured in Italy and assembled by contractors in New York, the elevator too underwent the same procedures. However in terms of my request I was delighted to get drawings from Heatherwick Studios showing the basic design of the elevator itself. They are not credited at all so I cant say with confirmation who exactly was the designer (apart from the company Cimolai Technologies itself.) Anyway the drawing from Heatherwick’s I have published below:

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The general outline of the Vessel’s elevator can be seen, including how the ‘bogie’ relates to the passenger cabin and the rack system. Source: Heatherwick Studios.

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Close up of the ‘bogie’ design showing the motors and the hydraulics. The means of control and power collection can also be seen in the form of four pairs of miniature collection shoes. Source: Heatherwick Studios.

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The elevator clearly gets its power (and controls for starting/stopping etc) from these pick-up rails mounted to the side of the structure.

There is a video that shows the technicalities of the new elevator operating at The Vessel. From the pictures one can see more of how the elevator works and if anyone wants to see the video the links are below.

Basically, as the drawings above shows, the cabin sits on top of an inclined bogie which consists of the motors and gears needed to move the whole thing as well as guide it along its dedicated alignment.

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A pair of electric motors drives the reduction gearing that turns the par of nearest cogwheels. There are four motors so there’s one for each cogwheel drive. Source: Youtube

By the way the elevator stops at just three locations, this being the lower and upper terminals as well as one intermediate floor level (Level 0, Level Five and and Level Eight.) It can stop at other floors manually however these are ’emergency access only.’

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Close up of the hydraulic piston used to keep the elevator car level. On the underneath of the car floor itself is the hydraulic fluid tank. I expect there are gyros or similar detectors that adjust the system for optimal levelling. Source: Youtube

There is a main wheel attached to the cogwheel itself and this forms the main guidance system in unison with the cogweel, whilst the smaller wheel on the outside is not fixed and simply freewheels against its own track.

I think the system will be prone to problems because of how it is arranged. Personally I do not care much for the one hydraulic ram holding the car itself in a vertical position. It seems too minimal and two of these, preferably in a different position, would have been more assuring in terms of safety. However this would require a bigger bogie and possibly some alterations to the landing platforms. As I have said before in other posts when it comes to matters such as this I’m no designer or engineer and am just making an observation.

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As you can see from the pictures its the modern version of rack gear – which is actually rollers within a wheel mount – allowing for a more even and smoother operation. Source: Youtube

The rack concept (and the sliding guide wheel concept) is not new however and in fact can be traced back to the designs of Swiss engineer Eduard Locher, first used in 1889. If one turns the wheels and rack on this elevator to the horizontal against each other one will essentially have what is Locher’s unique rack system. The use of bogies to guide the elevator (and change its direction) was first used by Gustave Eiffel/Otis Elevators.

Thus we have several elements in this new elevator at The Vessel whose design can be traced back to that one very year of 1889 – The Eiffel Tower and the Pilatusbahn. I’m not saying the Vessel’s elevator is old hat technology, it isnt at all, it is a new step forward in terms of design, it couldn’t have been built in this way in 1889. But the different elements are not new.

Clearly most of the work for the assembly of the elevator went to an American company whom I can say with some confidence is the Liberty Elevator Corporation, who probably subcontracted certain aspects out to other companies (like craneage that sort of thing) as would generally be the case.

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The company, Liberty Elevators itself is not saying anything (not directly) about whether it had undertook the work or not not, however there are indications it was them. First they do mention The Vessel on their Facebook page and congratulate Related Companies on the structure’s opening. Secondly Liberty’s employees have been seen testing the new elevator and in fact ensuring it’s operation was working as it should on the very first day The Vessel opened.

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Screencaps from Liberty Elevators’ video (only 17 Youtube viewers so far…) clearly advocating the Vessel as a ‘custom installation.’

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Screencaps from Liberty Elevators’ video (only 17 viewers so far…) clearly showing their associations with The Vessel’s elevator.

At the time of writing just seventeen viewers had seen this video and barely anyone follows their social media profiles so basically it turns out barely anyone has seen Liberty’s profiles and thus been able to make any sort of connotations with The Vessel.

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Liberty Elevators Corp employee seen overseeing and making sure everything worked well on the opening day. Source: Youtube

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Can’t miss the corporate ID on the guy’s clothes or cap! Liberty Elevators employee seen at The Vessel on the opening day. Source: Youtube

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Can’t miss the Liberty Elevator guy at all! He has the entire lift to himself lol. Source: Youtube

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Liberty Elevators’ congratulations to Related Companies. Source: Facebook

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Liberty Elevators’ description on their You Tube page included hashtags for Hudson Yards and elevator.

What Liberty is saying is The Vessel, Hudson Yards, was a custom installation and they add hashtags in the information below the video.

What do people think of Hudson yards? Well there’s the view its a billionaire’s playground more than anything else. Its quite focused towards generating money as a lot of newspapers and media are saying. Its an important point as that is the perception that is being got from the new development.

I think The Vessel itself is artistically cute and has merits, including the way it looks, how the different stairs interlock, how it feels sort of like something from Escher and so many other things. The expense is something else (although its implied it has not come out of the public purse), the image it gives is a very good question, and the issue of accessibility does pose some concern for me.

Is Hudson Yards cool, the sort of thing people really need? Is it something for the rich? That’s a question many have been asking:

“But what Hudson Yards in fact is, at its heart, is absolutely the most boring, uninteresting thing that you could realize with all that investment: It is an engorged complex of high-end office space and retail. It is no one’s idea of cool…” Source: Artnet

Here are some other sources, many very reputable, that give quite a lowdown on Hudson Yards and The Vessel. Even the latter has been described as something that celebrates ableism! I can concur with that even though an ADA compliant lift has been put in and Heatherwick himself has said he was conscious his structure should be accessible, though the means is not perfect.

1) New York’s Hudson Yards is an ultra-capitalist Forbidden City.
2) Cities Deserve Better Than These Thomas Heatherwick Gimmicks’.
3) Is New York’s Hudson Yards a playground for billionaires or a budding new urban landscape?
4) Stairway to Nowhere: On the Pleasure of Hating Thomas Heatherwick’s ‘Vessel’ in Hudson Yards
5) The billionaire behind Hudson Yards, the most expensive real-estate development in US history, says it’s ‘not a neighborhood for the rich’.

On a different matter many people have been complaining about the massive photography grab the Related Companies’ (or more properly its subsidiary ERY Vessel LLC) being exercised upon the use of photographs. This is of course because The Vessel is now being operated/managed by Related/ERY Vessel LLC and they have the jurisdiction as to who can use The Vessel and how it is used. However people are not happy at the rules that Related came up with.

It was stated in the terms and conditions any photos taken of the Vessel and put on social media is theirs – not the property of those who took the photographs! And Related/ERY were not offering any money for the privilege either!

Its not only that – if one simply appears in a photo taken at the Vessel (in other words a photo taken by someone else and put on social media etc) the company have asserted a right to use names, likeness, voice, and all other aspects of another person’s identity for any commercial purpose they wish!

One can see the full page consisting of the old terms and conditions on the Internet Archive and then compare that with the modified terms and conditions that were put up by Related on 19th March 2019.

See this post (there are several) on Reddit re the matter. Also quite a few of the media have picked up on this, for example the New York Times, Gizmodo, etc. As has been said the policy has now been tweaked somewhat – though its still giving some cause for concern.

Finally, in reporting on Hudson Yards it doesn’t mean I support the idea of a playground for the rich or whatever. I like elements of Coal Drop Yards and The Vessel even though I also have reservations about these. Both of these projects in London and New York are associated with railway yards and depots and transport history and this is where my main interest arises.

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2 Comments

  1. The Liberty Elevator Corp employee captured in three photos within your article was indeed the lead foreman for the construction of the Vessel elevator. He along with a few other Liberty Elevator employees took great pride in the full installation of the custom elevator. The Vessel structure and it’s unique elevator are Monumental.

  2. The Liberty Elevator Corp employee captured in three photos within your article was the lead construction foreman. He along with a few other Liberty Elevator personnel did the full installation of the Vessel elevator. The Vessel and it’s unique elevator. ..simply monumental.

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