Historic Non-Structural Detail: Claustrophobic

by Don Friedman on June 22, 2016

I was in an old elevator today:


This is not an elevator in a private house, where a lot of the rules don’t apply. It’s in an old house converted to apartments. People grumble about code changes, but they typically improve on bad ideas (like coffin-sized elevators) that were allowed under old codes.

After Local Law 58 implemented the ADA in New York, new elevators generally had to be big enough for a wheelchair to fit inside and turn around. The easy rule of thumb is that the elevator had to fit a five-foot diameter circle, which meant a cab size of at least five feet square. (Yes, an elevator can be circular or oval in plan rather than square or rectangular. But it’s expensive and has no advantages, so it’s quite rare.)

More recently, the NYC Building Code has been modified so that new elevators are big enough for emergency responders to fit a gurney, meaning that the new standard minimum size is about five feet by eight feet.

I’m honestly not sure that a gurney could fit in the elevator in the picture even if it was tipped up on one end, which is not exactly proper gurney use. Actually, my first thought on setting foot in that elevator was that I had read this short story and it didn’t end well.

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