From the Architect's Desk
That’s what I have started to call part of our residential studio because we have had so many requests for residential elevators over the past few years. Chalk it up to mobility issues, illness, “ageing in place” (Built to Stay, Baltimore Magazine, October 2013) or just a helpful feature for use now and resale value in the future. Whatever the reason, residential elevators are suddenly popular.
Adding a residential elevator to an existing structure is not actually such an overwhelming design and construction issue as many think. Certainly, they require an architect’s trained eye to identify the best location and how to work the transition or vestibule areas into existing rooms. One issue to be considered is whether the elevator is for one or two people, and whether the cab and turning radius needs to accommodate a wheelchair. Another consideration is how many levels the elevator needs to connect. Does it need to go to the basement or garden level, or would a connection from the kitchen to the master bedroom be sufficient?
Sometimes the best solution is to add a new “tower” form on the exterior to create the elevator shaft. This is typically the easiest and least expensive way to go. A new vertical addition encloses the small elevator cab and adjacent vestibule/transition space. A small mechanical space is typically located in adjacent existing space. Sometimes good fortune allows the elevator addition direct access on each level to existing common rooms without a transition vestibule. The elevator cab can be fabricated with doors facing in several directions to ease this design process. The big challenge here is to make the tower and roof blend in with the existing architecture. Traditional or contemporary, glassy or not, it should feel like a natural extension of the home design.
Other times a new single, vertical addition just won’t work. There is no good way to locate it without limiting or eliminating existing doorways, windows or circulation. In this case we must really study the structure of the home to find the best place to insert an elevator shaft. The roof lines, head height clearances and floor construction all become critical issues to analyze. Sometimes a small dormer on the roof must be designed to provide clearance for the elevator cab on the upper level. If the elevator is to go to the basement, we must verify adjacent foundations. This is definitely work for an Architect and her structural engineer!
In a new home, it is now not unusual or extravagant for owners to discuss an elevator from the get-go. This is ideal, as we can locate the shaft and doorways in their best places, graciously opening to foyers and stair halls. Even if the cab is not installed, at least the plan is there and the space, typically an extra hall closet, is allocated for a future elevator and small mechanical area.
At the end of the day, a residential elevator knit architecturally into an existing or new home makes sense—great for use now and for the families who will call this house their home in the future.