10 Extreme and Unusual Elevators Around the Globe


Elevators. These vertical transport machines in buildings worldwide might seem mundane, but certain elevators cross the bounds into the extreme by their sheer exceptionality. In this account, discover the 10 most noteworthy elevators constructed worldwide, ranging from a lift inside a giant aquarium, an elevator that crawls up the world’s largest dome, and the fastest elevators in operation…

10. AquaDom

The AquaDom in Berlin, Germany is something that must be seen or, better yet, experienced to be believed. This elevator is a lift that rises up through an absolutely gigantic indoor, cylindrical aquarium filled with live fish in the DomAquarée complex. The AquaDom structure itself is in a hotel within the complex, while other elements of the complex include offices, a restaurant, a museum, and a more traditional aquarium. The tallest free-standing aquarium in the world with a tank height of 52 feet on top of a 30-foot base, the AquaDom is defined by an elevator that travels through the tank and offers incredible views of bony fish, cartilaginous fish, and marine invertebrates.

The huge tank is formed from acrylic, the product of American company International Concept Management Inc. Construction of the outside of the giant water-holding structure was formed from 12 panels, while the elevator-holding tube was formed from three parts joined together. Home to 50 types of fish, the aquarium measures approximately 36 feet in diameter. The water-holding capacity of the tank through which the elevator travels is 260,000 US gallons. At the top of the AquaDom, a walkway extends horizontally to top floors.

9. Oregon City Municipal Elevator

You might have read A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens, but the case of Oregon City is the tale of one city, but with two very distinct geographic levels, and it might not be something with which you’re as familiar. In the early years of Oregon City, the majority of the city was built on low elevation land close to the Willamette River. Growth led to more construction onto a large bluff. Eventually, a plan was hatched to create an outdoor elevator linking the two disparately elevated neighborhoods. An initial 1912 vote failed, but subsequent reconsideration later that year garnered enough votes to pass. The project was then opposed by blufftop residents, especially one who refused to provide access land, eventually losing to the city in a Supreme Court case.

The remarkable Oregon City Municipal Elevator stands cliffside and rises 130 feet. The tower looks like a concrete tube with an observation deck near the top that’s reminiscent of the stereotypical UFO shape seen in popular flying saucer depictions. Linking the two neighborhoods at different heights, the bizarre structure is the only outdoor municipal elevator in the United States. The original water-powered elevator was built in 1915, while the current elevator was built from 1954-1955. The elevator is free to the public to use, but as there is an operator, hours are subject to some limitations. Fortunately for travelers, the hours of service are generous.

8. Bailong Elevator

China is home to some of the most impressive works of engineering on the planet. The diverse landscapes of China also host stunning natural scenery, characterized by extreme mountain landscapes complete with gigantic stone spires and sheer cliff walls rising hundreds of feet. Where these two natural elements combine, some modern wonders of engineering and outdoor attractions can be found. Zhangjiajie National Forest Park in China, with its towering cliffs, is home to a stunning modern work of engineering and innovation that ranks highly among the world’s extreme elevators. The Bailong (Meaning “One Hundred Dragons”) Elevator is a glass elevator that holds the Guinness World Record for highest outdoor lift on the planet.

Ascending to a height of 1,070 feet, the elevator rises against massive sandstone cliffs that define the extreme geology and geography of the park. The lift offers unbelievable views of the surrounding mountains, spires, and cliffs, contrasting towering natural stone pillars with lush broadleaf forest. In such a rugged natural landscape in a country with a number of active seismic zones, concern over natural disasters presents a subject of consideration. One comfort is that earthquake sensors are part of the design of the infrastructure for the Bailong Elevator.

7. Hammetschwand

Switzerland is known for its castles and mountains, and now you can also know about the remarkable outdoor elevator close to Lake Lucerne. Near the northern boundaries of the Swiss Alps stands the imposing mountain Bürgenstock, jutting into the lake. Standing 3,658 feet above sea level, the horn-like mountain boasts an expansive plateau, plus a nearly vertical north face that plunges into Lake Lucerne below. At the top section of this impressive stepped cliff is an outdoor elevator remarkable in its height, construction, and location, known as the Hammetschwand Lift. A castle turret-like peak marks the top of an awesome elevator that’s 502 feet tall. The elevator connects a stony path on Bürgenstock to the top lookout point known as the Hammetschwand.

Despite its remarkable engineering and such difficult natural surroundings, the Hammetschwand Lift is not at all new. Rather incredibly, the structure was built in 1905, with subsequent equipment overhauls to modernize the lift service. Talk about early advancement! This amazing structure is Europe’s tallest outdoor elevator, and the 502-foot ride in the Hammetschwand Lift is exceptionally fast for such a conveyance. It takes less than a single minute to get to the top, where views of Lake Lucerne and the Alps are appreciated from the lookout point and the bridge that connects the lift tower to the cliffside lookout.

6. Andrew Walker’s Bottomless Elevator Illusion

British artist Andrew Walker is known for his interesting projects and unusual creative designs, but his work took a rather terrifying elevator-related turn when he created a promotional piece that was installed in an elevator at the Southside Wandsworth Shopping Centre located in London’s Wandsworth Town.The work featured the illusion of a gaping hole taking up most of the elevator floor, even depicting the empty shaft below. Ragged edges completed the stunning — but admittedly terrifying — illusion. And what was being promoted? A subterranean ride.

The jagged edges and missing floor view even replicated operational equipment expected to be found in an elevator shaft, while a warning sign in the shaft was even depicted. The shocking graphic surprised many who opened the elevator door to find the hole in the lift floor. While the stunt was admittedly very creative, one might wonder if there might be some risks of unintended consequences. For example, what if someone was so startled that they froze and got hit by the door? Another possibility worth considering would be whether someone could be so badly startled by the bottomless elevator that they could suffer a heart attack or other related medical emergency.

5. Skyview Elevator

An elevator, in our typical perception, is a lift that helps us travel in a direction that’s simply perpendicular to the ground; straight up, or straight back down to ground floor. But the geometry of how an elevator functions may be markedly different from popular concepts of what an elevator is, in fact. One of the most bizarre and unique elevators in the world is located in Stockholm, Sweden and astounds the first-time viewer — and especially the first time rider — by traveling on a simply incredible curved path. The geometry of the Skyview Elevator presents a complete departure from our standard mental image of an elevator in operation.

The Skyview elevator system consists of two separate glass-paned gondolas, which are themselves spherically shaped. The two spheres then crawl in an arc along tracks extending from the base to the summit of the gigantic, round, and aptly named Globen Arena. The Globen Arena is the largest spherical building on the planet. Upon reaching the top, the elevator gondolas will have reached 425 feet above sea level. The result is two tiny, glass-windowed spheres crawling up the side of an immense sphere. The shapes match in harmony, while the contrast in size between the little traveling spheres and the “host” sphere is enormous.  

4. Shanghai Tower Elevator

Waiting for an elevator to come in the first floor may be tiresome. Once on the elevator, the ride may take some time before you get you to your destination. However, in an interesting evolution of architecture and engineering, as buildings get taller, elevators have been getting faster and faster. The spectacular Shanghai Tower is a building measuring 2,073-feet, 5-inches tall. The giant tower, with its unusual twisting shape, holds not only the world record for having the world’s highest observation deck in any built structure, but also contains three high-speed elevators that hold the Guinness World Record for being the world’s fastest elevators.

Engineered to precision with high power and efficiency, the super lifts of Shanghai Tower are capable of reaching maximum speeds of 45.8 miles-per-hour. The high-speed lifts travels to a height of 121 stories in the tower, offering riders a bold rush to dizzying heights. Video screens track progress between floors. The regular elevator runs in the building are still blindingly fast at 40 miles-per-hour, but the 45.8 MPH rides are performed with an onboard operating technician from Mitsubishi Electric, the company that built the record-holding elevator system.

3. Gateway Arch Elevator

Remarkable structures require equally complicated and advanced elevator systems to handle the heights and challenging routes they may present. In St. Louis, Missouri stands the tallest arch on the planet, the 630-foot-tall Gateway Arch. Constructed primarily out of stainless steel and concrete with numerous observation windows present, the towering Gateway Arch is also the tallest man-made monument in the Western Hemisphere. From the outside, the inverted U-shaped arch — which tapers notably from the base — does not look like an accessible building. However, visitor access is a defining characteristic of the arch, which is both a stunning monument to view from the outside and a structure offering a vantage point at an incredible height.

Bringing visitors to the top of the Gateway Arch is a tram-like elevator system some might call claustrophobia-inducing, taking visitors to the narrow but window-filled observation deck at the structure’s vertex. The viewing deck of the arch is a shockingly compact space, yet the angled windows provide magnificent views of St. Louis far below. Forming a characteristic and well appreciated element defining the St. Louis skyline, the arch is considered a monument to pioneer settlement of the Western United States. Aircraft have concerningly made illegal passes through the arch on multiple occasions.

2. Suur Munamägi Observation Tower

Eastern Europe is home to some of the most remarkable structures and architectural creations on the planet. One of the most interesting construction projects of note is the Suur Munamägi Observation Tower in Estonia. The observation tower is the tallest point in Estonia, and in fact in all of the Baltics. Built on land that’s 1,043 feet above sea level, the tower rises another 95 feet into the air.

Boasting a multitude of glass windows, a white exterior finish, and concrete and brick construction, the tower (which was constructed in 1939 and dramatically renovated in 1969) looks undeniably space age. In 2005 the elevator, which currently defines the tower as offering one of the most remarkable rides on the planet, was installed.

Visitors ride up the tower on an incredible exterior elevator journey, eventually reaching the observation deck that offers a 50-kilometer view of the surrounding area. The Suur Munamägi Observation Tower is an amazing asset to the nation for Estonia, but it’s not for those with vertigo! In the cold of winter, an interesting visual effect occurs as the white paint of the building matches the snow-covered trees growing near the tower.

1. Japan’s Largest Passenger Elevator

Toshiba Corporation, a Tokyo-based multi-national, might be known best as a company that builds quality computers. However, the company produces a vast array of products, ranging from lighting and power systems to industrial infrastructure. Little known is one particularly remarkable achievement of this company: the creation of the largest passenger elevators in Japan. Located in Tokyo’s spectacular Sumitomo Fudosan Roppongi Grand Tower are four monster elevators that can carry a stunning 90 passengers from the first floor up to the 29th.

From that point, smaller elevators can take passengers to their destination floor. The elevators weigh just over 13,000 pounds, with a width of just under 11 feet and a depth of just over 10 feet. The huge elevators are notably fast at 984.25 feet-per-second. Two of the four giant elevators are fronted with glass, giving the riders a sweeping view of Tokyo as they are lifted en masse to higher floors. Due to the special safety considerations in designing and operating these high-speed, high-capacity elevators, double safety devices — one being located at the bottom as usual and a second one added to the top — are installed on these four behemoths.

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