Elevators need not be boring metal boxes carrying office employees up and down. Our collection of the world’s strangest includes an elevator that rises through the middle of an aquarium, and one that scales a 1000-foot-high face of a cliff.
Located at the Radisson Blue hotel in Berlin-Mitte, Germany, the AquaDom puts a transparent elevator right in the middle of an 82-foot-tall aquarium. The aquarium contains more than 260,000 gallons of seawater and is home to more than 1500 fish from 50 different species. It takes three to four divers and almost 18 pounds of food a day to keep the fish fed.
Burj Khalifa Elevator
Dubai, United Arab Emirates
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The Burj Khalifa is all about being No. 1, and so the world s tallest building features the world’s fastest elevator. It whisks visitors upward at 40 miles per hour–fast enough to reach the top floor, 2038 feet up, in just 35 seconds. Because the elevators service so many floors, the tower utilizes double-decker cars, each with a fancy light show.
Anderton Boat Lift
One of the oldest surviving boat lifts–massive engineering projects designed to raise or lower a boat from one body of water to another at a different elevation–is the Anderton boat lift in England. It was built in 1875, shut down in 1983 and then restored in 2002. Hydraulic rams raise and lower what are essentially two massive tubs–called caissons–that lift boats up to the Trent and Mersey Canal or lower them to the River Weaver.
Luxor Hotel Inclined Elevator
As we saw in our roundup of the world’s strangest pools, Vegas hotels are a hotbed for the ornate and the bizarre. The iconic pyramid construction of the Luxor requires the elevators to travel on an incline of 39 degrees, giving riders a view of the hotel’s monumental atrium–one of the largest in the world.
Gateway Arch Tram
A train of eight 5-seat cars takes passengers on a 4-minute ride to the observation deck atop the Gateway Arch. Two trams disembark from each leg of St. Louis’ most famous landmark every 10 minutes, keeping the passengers entirely level throughout the trip, much like a Ferris wheel gondola.
Oregon City Municipal Elevator
Oregon City, Oregon
Oregon City is a city of two levels: the first located along the banks of the Willamette River, and the second atop a basalt cliff. An outdoor municipal elevator, the only one of its kind in the United States, takes pedestrians from one level to the other. First constructed in 1915, the elevator was initially water-powered and took 3 minutes to scale the 130-foot cliff. The current electric-powered elevator, open since 1955, has a much quicker ride of just 15 seconds.
Auckland, New Zealand
Sky Tower’s elevator is not for the acrophobic. Each of the elevator’s four cars features a glass window in the floor, giving riders some transparency and a bit of a thrill as they ride up and down the 70-story building.
Built onto the side of a cliff in the Wulingyuan area of Zhangjiajie, China, the Bailong Elevator is thought to be the tallest outdoor elevator in the world. Meaning “Hundred Dragons Elevator” the Bailong rises up against a steep cliff face 1000 feet high. Viewers from the top get a fantastic view of the area’s massive quartzite sandstone pillars, some of which are over 2600 feet tall.
The home of some of the greatest works of art in history carries visitors in an elevator that’s seemingly from the future. This open-topped, hydraulically powered elevator shuffles guests in and out of the Louver smoothly and quietly. Even cooler, an automatic slide-out walkway greets passengers at the end of their ride.
Rising Tide Elevator
Oasis of the Seas ocean liner
Located on the world’s largest cruise ship, the MS Oasis of the Seas, the Rising Tide claims to be the only bar-elevator combo in the world. Holding 35 passenger/patrons at a time, the elevator connects the ship’s Central Park deck to the Royal Promenade. The two-story trip takes a leisurely 8 minutes, enough time to grab a cocktail while you wait.
Umeda Hankyu Building Elevator
There are studio apartments in New York City smaller than the elevators in Osaka’s Umeda Hankyu Building. This 11.15 x 9.2-foot space can carry 80 passengers or just shy of 5 tons–whichever comes first. The reason for these cavernous lifts is that the building’s employee offices don’t start until the 15th floor (the Hankyu Department Store takes up the first 14), requiring elevators that can shuttle up large numbers of employees.
The Falkirk Wheel transports boats between the Union Canal and the Forth and Clyde canal. It opened in 2002 and is the only rotating boat lifts in the world. Ten hydraulic motors turn the wheel at one-eighth revolution per minute (thus it completes a full spin in 8 minutes). At the same time, the diametrically opposed caissons–the water-filled tubs the boats are kept in–rotate at the same speed as the wheel but in the opposite direction. This keeps them perfectly level as the wheel spins. It takes only 30.2 horsepower to move the entire 600-ton apparatus.
Europe and Scandinavia
The paternoster is a little like a revolving door. These elevators are comprised of a dozen or so open compartments (usually large enough for two people) that slowly, continually loop between floors. J.E. Hall, an Englishman, first developed the concept in 1884, calling it a “cyclic elevator.” It’s more common name, paternoster, comes from the first two words in the Latin version of the Lord’s Prayer, “Our Father.” It got the name thanks to its resemblance to rosary beads. Although their constantly running nature poses a safety issue, hundreds still exist across Europe and Scandinavia; the one pictured here is used in a Berlin office building.
Trampe Bicycle Lift
The Norwegian city of Trondheim is home to the world’s first and only bicycle elevator. The city built the lift to promote commuter cycling in 1993. To use the lift, passengers place an outstretched leg on a moving footrest. The lift hauls them up the 426-foot-long, 20-percent gradient hill at a speed of just under 5 mph.
Santa Justa Lift
Raul Mesnier de Ponsard, an apprentice of Gustave Eiffel, designed this neo-Gothic municipal elevator. Originally powered by steam upon its construction in 1902, the 426-foot-tall elevator is now electrically powered but still features the original birdcage-style cars with ornate wooden interiors. Portugal declared the lift a national monument at the elevator’s centennial in 2002.
Le Roelux, Belgium
Everything about Strepy-Thieu is big. It’s the tallest boat lift in the world, and there’s a difference in elevation of 240 feet between upstream and downstream entrances. It took 20 years to build before it was completed in 2002, and now it can move loads of up to 8400 tons. More than 100 suspension cables keep the caissons stable during operation, while four electric motors control eight winches and pull the 32 control cables to raise or lower the caissons.
Right next to Volkswagen’s home base stands perhaps the most sophisticated car garage in existence–one that involves no driving whatsoever. After a vehicle is finished at the VW factory, a conveyer belt carries it down a half-mile underground tunnel to one of several 200-foot-tall silos. An automated elevator then picks up the car from off the belt, lifts it at 5 feet per second and uses an extension to place the car into an open slot. New VW owners can opt to pick up their car at the silo, and because the elevator system requires no driving, buyers get a car with the odometer at zero.
Maritime Museum Birdcage Elevator
Victoria, British Columbia, Canada
Take a step back in time with this birdcage elevator at the Maritime Museum of British Columbia. Constructed in 1899, it is the oldest operating birdcage elevator in North America. The lift was originally designed for use by the ailing Theodore Davie, chief justice of the Supreme Court of British Columbia, but Davie passed away before he could ever use it.