Friday, August 7, 2009

Elevators

The right elevators inspire confidence, security, and a clear sense of purpose. They also enrich the space in which they sit. The elevators at my office are of this sort. You are led up to the doors on a platform of ceramic tile. This platform sits in the middle of a massive atrium. Everything that surrounds you is white or beige, with the exception of the fake plastic plants. The environment is completely soulless. There are six elevators, two banks of three sitting opposite each other. Whereas most elevators travel within a shaft, these ones are fully exposed. They move on rails, and do so exquisitely. The movement is exceptionally smooth, so much so that it appears and feels seamless.

The backs of the elevators are glass. These elevators are very elegant, and serve to open up the architecture, unifying the space. Once inside, one is overwhelmed by the refinement and attention to detail. Everything exists in right angles. Wood-paneled walls with brushed steel trim sit adjacent to the glass back. The glass back faces brushed steel doors. Below your feet is lush green carpeting. Above your head you will find small, dim, recessed can lights - eight of them.

The floors are represented by small brushed-steel panels with raised, painted numbers. Just below them, you will find Braille labels conveying the same information. Unfortunately, the buttons themselves are circular and plastic. They each sit right beside their corresponding rectilinear steel panels. Not only is this redundancy wasteful and confusing, it is insulting to the rest of the d├ęcor and crippling to the overall effect. Even worse than this, you might occasionally find that a custodian has thoughtlessly left the phone box ajar. On these rare occasions, the elevator is like a man with his balls hanging out through the zipper of his pants.

There are seven floors in my building. I work on the fifth. While riding the elevator, the floor numbers are displayed digitally, red on black, as you ascend or descend. On each floor, the elevators empty onto an S-shaped catwalk. The doors all open in the middle of the “S.” Both ends of the catwalk deliver you to an entrance to the walkway that circumscribes the void at the center of each floor, the void through which the elevators travel. This entrance is formed by large glass doors which stand between the railings. All of the office space sits beyond the glass doors. From the walkway you can see all of the other floors. You can triangulate your position very easily. It is both reassuring and discouraging to know exactly where you stand in relation to the larger structure around you. The skylights mingle with the ventilation ducts at a suicidal, vertiginous height, far beyond anyone’s reach. Such is the nature of ideals.

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