Ascending to the Heavens in a Claustrophobic Box

Apparently, elevators have been much more essential to the development of our modern nation’s urban layout and cultural life than we ever thought to give them credit for. As the elevator enthusiasts of academia maintain, the invention of the elevator paved the way for a new, innovative high-rise style of architecture.

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The Woolworth Building in New York, completed in 1913 and rising up to 792 feet in the sky.

Not only this, but elevators have also been credited by its appreciators for reshaping the social hierarchy of commercial and residential buildings. Originally, the top floors of, let’s say, a large house were reserved for those expected to hike up several flights of stairs–namely, this demographic included servants and staff. Before elevators, the well-off folks dwelled on bottom floors.

But, of course, the invention of elevators allowed for the rearrangement of this hierarchy to feature the most important men and women occupying top floors of high-rise home and office buildings. If anything, elevators are yet another way for those who can afford it to rise up closer to the divine.

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Enter the era of the penthouse suite.

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Impressed?

One more thing we can attribute to the conception of the elevator is the emergence of an astonishingly (and timelessly) awkward social situation. Obviously, the relentless indecision of where to fix one’s gaze, the violation of personal bubbles of all parties involved, and the painful silence amidst the cumbersome beeping from floor to floor in an elevator is news to no one (I live on the thirteenth story, so I’ve thought about this stuff). Also, there is something uncomfortable even about being in an elevator alone; the elevator in my dorm is especially rickety, so frequent worrisome jolts often inspire scenarios in my head of horrific mechanical mishaps. Again, I know I’m not the only one.

How does this universal discomfort reflect on elevators? According to the Globe article cited in the beginning of this post, elevators have always felt unnatural, and as far anyone can tell, they will stay that way. So, maybe there is something fundamentally unorthodox about the entire concept of elevators. Maybe, spreading up instead of out, however innovative, is asking just a little too much of our natures to become accustomed to.

 

One Comment

Crischo posted on March 26, 2014 at 1:34 pm

It’s an intersting thought about the change of hierarchy due to the construction of elevators. The house that I live in has 5 floors and no elevator. Working people with familiy live in the lower ones and young students at the top. An elevator might reverse this order.

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