A splendid piece on elevators - yes, lifts - in this week's New Yorker.
Two things make tall buildings possible: the steel frame and the safety elevator. The elevator, underrated and overlooked, is to the city what paper is to reading and gunpowder is to war. Without the elevator, there would be no verticality, no density, and, without these, none of the urban advantages of energy efficiency, economic productivity, and cultural ferment. The population of the earth would ooze out over its surface, like an oil slick, and we would spend even more time stuck in traffic or on trains, traversing a vast carapace of concrete. And the elevator is energy-efficient—the counterweight does a great deal of the work, and the new systems these days regenerate electricity. The elevator is a hybrid, by design.
While anthems have been written to jet travel, locomotives, and the lure of the open road, the poetry of vertical transportation is scant. What is there to say, besides that it goes up and down?
Actually, as Nick Paumgarten discovers, there's quite a lot more to say... Highly recommended.