Mind the gap

March 7th, 2002 § Comments off

Why does it take so long to mend an escalator? The London Review of Books examines the intersection of technology, transportation planning, and human behavior:

“As more and more architecture is finally unmasked as the mere organisation of flow—shopping centres, airports—it is evident that circulation is what makes or breaks public architecture,” Rem Koolhaas has written in another context. “Two simple, almost primitive, inventions have driven modernisation towards mass occupancy of previously unattainable heights: the elevator and the escalator.” Of these, the escalator is the winner in places where large crowds have to be taken up or down moderate heights over short distances. The reason for this is clear: a lift leaves people waiting in impatient groups; an escalator lets them stream. In most situations it is the short-distance vertical mass-transport system of choice. Those who design and manage escalators must keep the cost of the machine’s tendency to hurl, pinch and grab at a level acceptable in terms of injury and damaged machinery.

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