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Escalator

Harvard Design School Guide to Shopping

1949
“The Escalator actually
sells its own service.”
Illustration from an Otis
Elevator Co. brochure
336
Escalator.
by SRDJAN JOVANOVIC WEISS
and SZE TSUNG LEONG

Escalator
No invention has had the importance for and impact on shopping as
the escalator. As opposed to the elevator, which is limited in terms of
the numbers it can transport between different floors and which
through its very mechanism insists on division, the escalator accommo-
dates and combines any flow, efficiently creates fluid transitions
between one level and another, and even blurs the distinction between
separate levels and individual spaces. The escalator profoundly modi-
fies architecture—it denies the relevance of both compartments and
floors. The success and rapid acceptance of the escalator, which effec-
tively enabled the department store at the beginning of the twentieth
century, is due to its effortless transformation of virtual space into
retail area. As an instrument of smoothness, the escalator triggered a
vast new domain of construction, which—through the very smoothness
of connection—we now inhabit almost without thought, and without
any sense of its true scale or radicality. Paradoxically, the most radical
architecture has been the most popular and the least noticed.
337
Evolution of the escalator

1829 Sir William Congreve


schemes for perpetuum mobile
1840

installations of the escalator


• 1859: revolving stairs protoescalator U.S. patent

1859 U.S. patent Nathan Ames

invention and evolution of the escalator


revolving stairs - protoescalator
1860
1880

stepless escalator inclined elevator


1892 U.S. patent Jesse W.Reno
1892 U.S. patent George H.Wheeler
• 1892–96: stepless escalators installed in Bloomingdale's, New York
1896 Reno’s inclined elevator • 1895–96: stepless escalators installed in Harrod's, London
Coney Island
1898 European patent Escalator prototype 1898 Wheeler’s patent sold to Charles D.Seeberger
M.Halle stepless escalator Otis, Paris Expo 1900 1899 Seeberger partners with Otis
• 1900: Otis‘s first escalator at the Paris World Fair • 1900: Otis's first escalator at the Paris World Fair
Seeberger experiments with spiral moving stairs under Otis
• 1901: escalators installed in Gimbel‘s, Philadelphia
• 1901–3: escalators installed in Macy's, New York
• 1902–3: patent adaptation for Luna Park at Coney Island
1903 Reno’s patent sold to Otis
• 1905: 8 escalators in a factory in Lawrence, Mass.
1906 Otis’s patent 1906 M.Hocquardt European Fahrtreppe • 1906: escalators installed in Bon Marché, Paris
1900

combines Seeberger’s and Reno’s ;• 1906: Macy's counts customers on escalators and elevators

• 1911: escalator in the London underground

• 1914: escalator in Mitsukoshi store, Japan

• 1918: escalator profit formula for 5 & 10 Cents Stores, New York
the escalator enables
the department store

1920 Otis redesign • 1920: escalator redesigned for horizontal stepping on/off
1920

1935 Mitsubishi escalator


• 1935: Japanese Mitsubishi escalator

1938 Schindler escalator

1941 Otis redesign


1
1
handrail extended

• 1945: 1,600 total number of escalators in the U.S. 1,600

1940
• 1945: 2,700 total number of escalators in the U.S. 2700
escalator patent adjudged 1949 Otis crisscross escalators • 1949: escalator patent adjudged from Otis
3,700 crisscross arangements for the Buffalo Departmemt store
Buffalo, N.Y.

1960

U.S. - Escalators annual sales


the world's escalators
• 1970: U.S.: 329 escalators operate in office buildings 1970

with a single escalator able


• 1974: Mitsubishi: accumulated 5,000 escalators

can move the


ac c
um
ula
1980 tion
to move 7,000–8,000 people per hour,
o

in less than 4 days


• 1983: Mitsubishi: accumulated 10,000 escalators

world's population
f es
1985 spiral escalator, • 1985: Landmark Tower, Yokohama
cala
escalator with curved plan
1980

tor
Mitsubishi
s
• 1989: Mitsubishi: accumulated 15,000 escalators
doubles every ten years

wo
1990 1,404 1988 wheelchair escalator • 1988: Odakyu Shinjuku Station
• 1990: 7,000 escalators sold anually worldwide
rld
for the handicapped w
Mitsubishi
total number of escalators

• 1993: Mitsubishi: accumulated 20,000 escalators


id e
• 1995: 9,000/year worldwide - 30,000 exists in the US 1,327 1996 waved escalator • Kobe Harborland Canal Garden
• 1996: OTIS reports production of 2,050 /year, 60,000 in operation
• 1997: 15,000 escalators ordered annually escalator with horizontal midsection
Mitsubishi

0 / year
160,000
• 1997: OTIS plans accumulated 15,000 in China

300 / year
600 / year
900 / year
1200 / year
1500 / year
2000

*
Italic
Iran

India
Chile

Israel
Brazil
China
Japan
World

Sources:
France

Turkey

Cyprus

Jordan
Greece

Austria
Kuwait
Mexico
Europe

Canada

Uganda
Panama

Namibia
Bulgaria
Hungary
Portugal
Malaysia

Romania
Australia

Bermuda
Germany

Colombia
Las Vegas

Indonesia

Argentina
Singapore

Guatemala
Macedonia
Hong Kong

Bangladesh

Switzerland
South Africa
South Korea

Saudi Arabia

New Zealand
United States

Czech Republic
The Netherlands
United Kingdom

United Arab Emirates

Includes moving walks


Includes new installations

Nevada State Library & Archives






0
8

(196,387)
10
12
18
70
75
80
90
120
140
253
300
312
350
397
400
500
600
607
626
750
750
800
1,120
1,500
1,693
2,000
3,250
3,565
3,850
3,974
4,000
4,515
4,700
5,325
6,000
6,225
11,700
31,000
44,702
50,000
50,000-60,000
160,000

Total Escalators 1998*

100
10
60

0
0
0
2
0

15
0
2
30
20
23
50
64
0
70
50

30
67
116
70
70
77

250
179
200
780
50
100
89


155

480
703
928
1,281
2,948


New Installations 1998

The Elevator World Source 1999-2000, European Escalator Association,


1859: Patent. The first conceptual articulation of the escalator is described with forceful simplicity by the patent solicitor
Nathan Ames. Titled “An Improvement in Stairs,” the patent outlines a design for a staircase wound into an endless loop.1
The staircase, made pliable, evolves into a never-ending repetition of steps revolving around three mechanical wheels.

1892: Revision. The most radical and long-lasting change ever to affect the design of the escalator is the single move
of making it a linear belt instead of a triangular one. Several variations soon follow: a pyramidal escalator, a spiral escala-
tor, a seated escalator. These, however, will prove to be neither as ideologically nor as mechanically significant as the sim-
ple, linear moving staircase.

1859
Ames “Improvement
in Stairs”
U.S. patent
Nathan Ames

1892
Inclined elevator
U.S. patent
Jesse W. Reno

1892
Elevator
U.S. patent
George A. Wheeler

1898
Conveyor belt
European patent
M. Halle, engineer
Sixteen conveyor belts
are installed at the
European Exhibition of
Building Arts in Paris.

1900
Duplex spiral escalator
U.S. patent
Otis Elevator Company
Charles Seeberger, engineer

1902
Inclined elevator
U.S. patent
Jesse W. Reno
Harvard Design School Guide to Shopping

1906
Fahrtreppe
European patent
M. Hocquardt
340
1896-1906: Device. Once actualized, the escalator is rapidly adopted by shopping. As a result, the traditional staircase
begins a losing battle with commerce. Seen as an impediment to the fluid upward movement of shoppers, the staircase
proves to be no match for the escalator’s effortless transportation of consumers to goods. By adding a vertical dimension
to the urban experience, the escalator opens upper floors, previously off-limits to trade, to commercial colonization. The
“moving stairway” soon becomes the mechanism of choice for seamlessly integrating floors and for pulling traffic from
the street into the depths of the department store. Masses of anonymous consumers are lifted, free of charge, to a verti-
cal accumulation of spaces of consumerism. By opening its interior to unprecedented innovations in commercial technol-
ogy, the department store emerges as an architectural laboratory for inventions in vertical infrastructure, surrendering its
form and tectonics to the unpredictabilities of obsolescence and the continuous instability of the market. In 1896 Reno
sells four inclined elevators to the Siegel Cooper Department Store in New York. In 1898 Harrod’s in London installs a
demonstration machine for transportation and for sale.2 In 1900 Bloomingdale’s in New York exchanges its staircases for
Reno’s inclined elevator. In 1902 Macy’s installs a bank of four escalators. In 1906 the Bon Marché in Paris flanks its sides
with the European “Fahrtreppe.”
The emergence and success of the department store could not have been possible without the escalator. As it becomes syn-
onymous with commerce, the escalator, in alliance with air conditioning and artificial lighting, allows the interior to become
increasingly isolated from the exterior, with increasing depth and with increasing levels of control (☛ Air Conditioning).

Escalator
1898
Moving staircase
Harrod’s, London
Britain’s first escalator

1906
Fahrtreppe
Bon Marché, Paris
M. Hocquardt

341
1899–1900: Promise. In 1899 the American Charles Seeberger purchases several moving staircase patents, and invents
and trademarks the name Escalator. He then partners with the Otis Elevator Company to manufacture a working proto-
type.3 Exhibited at the 1900 Paris World’s Fair, Seeberger’s escalator confidently announces itself as a symbol of progress.
The two prototype escalators exhibited at the fair are later sold to department stores. The escalator becomes the catalyst
for store expansion above the street, the key to which is the escalator’s appeal to the pleasurable leisure of shopping, being
demanding neither on the shopper’s physical strength nor on her patience. Upper floors become experientially indistin-
guishable from ground floors.
An early formula for the upward expansion of a store declares the economy introduced by the escalator: first-floor-rent
+ first-floor-rent = $20,000, first-floor-rent + second-floor-rent + escalator = $15,000.4 In other words, an escalator will
make a first and second floor perform as well as two first floors, for a fraction of the rent.

1905: Work. Soon after the escalator is discovered by shopping to speed the transportation of consumers to goods, exper-
iments are carried out to test its effect on the rapid transportation of workers to work. To reduce the time between work-
ers’ shifts, the Worsted Wood Mill of Lawrence, Massachusetts, eliminates the use of its staircases in favor of four escala-
tors, which quickly grow to eight. These escalators are wider than usual, with a switch to control the conveying direction.

1906–11: Underground. In 1906 the first underground railway station escalator is installed in New York’s Bowery
Station on Delancey Street. The same year, London’s Underground’s Holloway Road Station installs a Reno spiral escalator,
which is later removed for safety reasons. In 1911 a Seeberger escalator is installed in London’s Earl’s Court Station. A par-
allel identity for the escalator begins. The distinction is simply this: above ground, the escalator unlocks speculative areas
of consumerism; below ground, the escalator unlocks access to greater urban distances through the subway networks.

1900
Seeberger Escalator,
manufactured by Otis,
at the Paris Exposition

1905
Seeberger Escalator,
Worsted Wood
Mill, Lawrence, Mass.

1914
Escalator,
Mitsukoshi Depato,
Tokyo
Japan’s first escalator

1918
Two-Story 5 & 10
Cent
Harvard Design School Guide to Shopping

Stores: How They


Can Be Made Possible
and Profitable
342
343 Escalator
1931–35: Moscow. The escalator embarks on an alternative history, separate from consumerism. While in the West the
escalator ensures a public commitment to commerce, in the Soviet Union the escalator parallels and symbolizes the public
ethos of proletarian efficiency.
Escalators are first installed in the new Moscow subway stations, which in themselves are symbols of the new nation’s
commitment to refashioning the city according to Soviet ideology. In a 1934 speech, L. M. Kaganovich, the Minister of
Transport, Commisar of Railways, and First Party Secretary for the Moscow Region in charge of constructing the new sub-
way system, explains how the Communist mind-set has contributed to unparalleled speeds of construction. Kaganovich
states that by the time Berlin’s first line was finished, the rate of construction was 1.8 kilometers of subway line per year.
Rome’s was 2.1 kilometers per year; Tokyo’s 1 kilometer per year; New York’s 2.9 kilometers per year. The first Moscow
Metro line has surpassed all of them, having been built at the rate of 3.4 kilometers per year. According to Kaganovich,

I do not cite this data in order to boast that we have surpassed the tempo of many capitalist cities. If under much more difficult con-
ditions we have, in spite of a lack of experience and skill, surpassed the tempo of capitalist states, it is due to our system of economy,
to the correct leadership of the Party, of its Central Committee, and the enthusiasm of the wide masses of the workers.5

The escalators continue the statistical advantage the Soviet Union has over the West. Not only are they among the
longest—some at 200 feet in length—but the speeds are phenomenal. With a rate of one meter per second, the Soviet
escalators run at almost twice the speed of the average escalator.6 The escalator in the Soviet Union is especially effective,
as it transports a constant stream of workers laboring on a two- or three-shift system, which eliminates the capitalist rush
hour. Other advantages of the Soviet escalator have been enunciated by a Soviet historian of the Moscow Metro:

Escalators deserve special mention. All are of Soviet make and the long service they have given is proof of their high technical qualities.
While in operation they have been further improved—greater smoothness and elimination of vibration having been attained. Today
Soviet factories produce the newest type of lighter escalator, which consumes 8 to 10 percent less electric power.7

Widely accepted because of its technological simplicity, the escalator is also immensely successful because of its ideologi-
cal flexibility, serving consumers and proletariats with equal effectiveness.

1935
Smolenskaya station
Moscow
Harvard Design School Guide to Shopping

Moscow Metro escalator


344
345 Escalator
1945–58: Marketing. Back in the West, the momentary lapse in consumerism caused by World War II gives way to an
unprecedented and uninhibited inventiveness fueled by consumerism. Advertisers claim technology as the guarantee for
economic success, and the Otis Company discovers marketing. Even though the basic idea of the escalator has remained
virtually unchanged since its first application, it is heralded as a technology critical to the postwar prosperity.
A direct equation between a building’s cash flow and number of visitors is formulated: maximum circulation = maximum
sales volume. Store area is calculated in direct relationship to volume and flow of shoppers. Stores are now devised accord-
ing to the equation, retail area above ground floor / capacity of the stairways < 1/20. That is, to carry one person an hour
to every twenty square feet of merchandise area above the ground floor is to accomplish maximum dollar volume.8 The
escalator can move five to eight thousand potential shoppers an hour, yet the sixteen hundred escalators in operation in
the United States in the late 1940s are hardly enough to sustain the postwar shopping euphoria.
In a promotional brochure, Otis articulates the difference between the elevator and the escalator as the difference
between who is in control:

The elevator is ideal for the ‘man with a mission.’ He knows what he wants. It’s a specific floor; he goes to that floor, makes his pur-
chase and leaves. If he wants to go upstairs because he has business there, then give him an elevator. But if you want him upstairs,
then you must reach down and pick him up. The Escalator does this job for you—and it does it better than any other vertical trans-
portation equipment available today.
Because of its beauty, because of its continuous movement, and because it is comfortable to ride on, the Escalator beckons to the
customer and assures him that he can travel upward quickly and without effort. No waiting, no crowding. This induces casual shoppers
to visit the upper floors. And, because a properly located Escalator affords a wide, unobstructed view of surrounding areas, passengers
often stray from the Escalator to look at merchandise they would otherwise never have noticed.
Escalators encourage impulse buying. They increase the value of upper floors, . . . they help to raise sales volume . . . and they pay
for themselves.9

1949
Pages from an Otis
Elevator Co. brochure

1955
Otis advertisement
Harvard Design School Guide to Shopping
346
347 Escalator
maximum circulation = maximum sales volume
Harvard Design School Guide to Shopping
348
Escalator

1949
Illustration from an Otis
Elevator Co. brochure
349
1948: Structure. In the immediate postwar years, in response to the need to increase the flow of shoppers as much as
possible and to address the lost income resulting from the glut of potential yet immobile customers, Otis produces an
effortlessly generic structural system, combining the escalator with a cheap steel frame.10 Its resemblance to Le Corbusier’s
Maison Domino structure is uncanny, yet the intent is the same: to introduce a new building system that would radically
transform the configuration of future buildings.

Domino frame Escalator

+
Harvard Design School Guide to Shopping
350
As Le Corbusier provided the minimum structural requirements for dwelling, Otis provides the minimum structural require-
ments for shopping. The way Otis achieves this is simple: eliminate the already obsolete staircase and replace it with the
escalator. The formula of Maison Domino + Otis = Shopping becomes the template and generator for a new paradigm of
interior territories.

Escalator
Ideal shopping structure

= 351
The obsession with the efficient movement of customers (maximum circulation equals maximum dollar value) and the
rapid adoption of the Maison Domino + Otis model causes residual building elements to vanish. The most noticeable casu-
alty is the department store’s grand staircase. In Kaufmann’s in Pittsburgh, “the layout of equipment is subordinated and
adapted to the traffic scheme. To provide free, unobstructed views into all departments, the main aisles lead directly to the
moving stairway. Secondary aisles lead to the central elevator terminal at an angle of 45 degrees.” In hand with the dis-
appearance of the grand staircase is the disappearance of the skylit open stairwell.11 Mechanical transportation proves to
be a much more effective means of attracting customers to the upper reaches of department stores than luring them with
architectural beauty.

=
Harvard Design School Guide to Shopping

1948
Otis escalator arrangements:
crisscross type attached arrangement
crisscross type detached arrangement
parallel-superimposed type
parallel-continuous type
352
Escalator
=

1948
Kaufmann’s
Department Store,
Pittsburgh
353
Soon after the Maison Domino + Otis prototype is published in manufacturer’s ads and in design manuals, a new pro-
totype is introduced that effectively removes any nonconsumer spaces from the shopping experience, creating vast new
territories of uninterrupted shopping. In 1948 this prototype is introduced in the form of two multistory department store
designs: one by Antonin Raymond and Ladislav Rado, the other by Louis Parnes.12 Both are rendered as massive, platonic
volumes that boast continuous shopping surfaces unencumbered by the constraints of services, program, or structure.

1948
Antonin Raymond
and Ladislav Rado
Prototype depart-
ment store with over-
all ceiling trusses
The escalator allows entire
floors to be skipped.
Harvard Design School Guide to Shopping
354
This newly liberated shopping space is achieved by the use of trusses thickened to become inhabitable floors where pro-
grammatic elements such as offices, administration, and storage are consolidated and “hidden” from the public. Rendered
unnecessary, columns no longer pose an obstacle to shoppers. For workers and emergencies, a core of elevators and stair-
ways runs to every floor. For shoppers, a freestanding set of escalators in a crisscross arrangement bypass the thickened
service floors and smoothly connect only the shopping floors.
By accessing every other floor, escalators enable entire regions of nonshopping program and structure to vanish from
experience, providing uninterrupted transitions from one shopping zone to the next. Because of the escalator, physical
adjacency is no longer a prerequisite for a coherent spatial experience.

1948
Louis Parnes
Prototype department store

Escalator
355
1958–80: Expansion. The interior continues its horizontal expansion with the development of a new generic building
typology of slab-and-base, where shopping occupies the horizontal realm in the form of a multilevel podium connected by
escalators, and work occupies the vertical strata of elevator-punctured office towers sitting on top of the shopping base.
This type is realized in Victor Gruen’s 1959 Midtown Plaza in Chicago, the first in a succession of increasingly interiorized
shopping realms crowned by office towers.
Because it expands the ground level of the city as an inhabitable, interiorized, and continuous plane on a scale extend-
ing beyond the individual building, the escalator becomes synonymous with urban experience. The increasing urbanization
of the interior—as in the slab-and-base model—as a result of new depths made accessible by the escalator and other
mechanical systems is paralleled by a reconceptualization of the urban exterior in terms of the escalator. The escalator
enables a paradigm shift in urban configuration, from the city of fragmentation to the city of seamlessness.
Emblematic of this shift is Alison and Peter Smithson’s 1958 Haupstadt project for the reconstruction of Berlin, which
proposes that a new scale of urban territory can be put within reach of the pedestrian through the aid of technology. The
escalator figures prominently in making smooth transitions from the street level up to a raised public platform that hori-
zontally extends indefinitely over the city. Reyner Banham pronounces the scheme “the escalator city.”

1959
Victor Gruen
Midtown Plaza, Rochester
The escalator enables the base,
while the elevator enables the slab.

1958
Alison and Peter Smithson, Berlin Hauptstadt project
Harvard Design School Guide to Shopping

Or, “escalator city” (Banham)

1979
John Berkey, rendering of a futuristic city for Otis
356
In 1979 Otis presents its own version of the utopian escalator city. Here, too, the escalator lifts the shopper/citizen to an
elevated realm of horizontal connectivity; yet this time the ease, efficiency, and high capacity of mechanical conveyance
has gone so far as to liberate the street from traffic.13

Escalator
357
1981–2000: Proliferation. With historical hindsight, an irony emerges. Even though the escalator has remained virtu-
ally unchanged since its first pre-twentieth-century patents, it has instigated some of the most profound transformations
in the configuration of built space and the city. Its efficiency and success rests largely on the fact that it has, at least until
now, resisted obsolescence. Its acceptance has even led to the elimination of classical mechanisms such as the staircase.
Not only has the escalator—along with other mechanical inventions such as air conditioning—enabled a vast expansion
in the physical size of shopping environments, it has also introduced a new way of inhabiting the city. With the escalator,
previously disconnected realms can be smoothed into an uninterrupted experience, allowing different and even incompat-
ible spaces to be taped onto each other almost ad infinitum and experienced as a single continuum. As an efficient tran-
sitional device, the escalator has quickly generated coherence out of fragmentation, unifying greater portions of the city.
Now, the smoothing effects of the escalator are being complemented by the expansion of shopping into program. Just as
spaces are becoming increasingly undifferentiated, so are activities. As schools and airports become shopping centers, malls
become museums, and downtowns become malls, the escalator remains a familiar, ubiquitous, and effective icon linking all
activities and spaces in an easy, attractive manner. Not only has the escalator made new scales, territories, and spaces avail-
able to us, it has also delivered us—in a way few can resist—to the new forces that so profoundly shape our cities.

☛ Air Conditioning, Mobility, Scale

1996 2000
Waved escalator Otis model 506NCE
Japan

1. William Worthington, Jr., “Early Risers,” Invention & Technology (Winter 1989): 40. 8. Otis Elevator Company, Escalators . . . OTIS, promotional brochure, 1949, 5.
Harvard Design School Guide to Shopping

2. David A. Cooper, “The History of the Escalator,” Lift Report (January–February 2000): 63. 9. Ibid., 4.
3. Ibid., 64. 10. Otis Elevator Company, “Otis Helps Purchaser or His Architect,” in The Place of the
4. Two-Story 5 & 10 Cent Stores: How They Can Be Made Possible and Profitable (1918), 1. Escalator in the Modern Merchandising, promotional brochure, 1948, n.p.
5. L. M. Kaganovich, The Construction of the Subway and the Plan of the City of Moscow 11. H. Pasdermadjian, The Department Store: Its Origins, Evolution and Economics
(Moscow: Co-operative Publishing Society of Foreign Workers in the USSR, 1934), 16. (London: Newman Books, 1954), 44.
6. Otis escalators run at an average of half a meter per second. 12. Morris Ketchum, Shops and Stores (New York: Reinhold, 1948), 130.
7. Z. Troitskaya, The L. M. Kaganovich Metropolitan Railway of Moscow (Moscow: Foreign 13. Margareth Opsata, “Escalators Used at Most Malls, Can Benefit Energy Bottom Line,”
Languages Publishing House, 1955), n.p. Shopping Center World (September 1980).
358
359 Escalator