Behold the Paternoster Lift That Never Stops

Behold the Paternoster Lift That Never Stops
Image: The University of Sheffield

We’ve all probably seen our fair share of weird tech-adjacent things. From phones to laptops to robots, the tech world never disappoints… But may the architectural world introduce you to the Paternoster lift?

A… Huh?

We’re used to simple, stopping, button-operated lifts. This thing? None of that. I’ve never seen anything quite like it. Let’s delve into it.

The Paternoster Lift shown in the tweet above is found at the Prague City Hall. While you might think of it as some futuristic invention, it actually dates back to the 1800s. Its name comes from Latin, meaning “Our Father”, which is what begins prayers on Rosary Beads.

They weren’t build that widely across the world and for the life of me I can’t find the existence of one in Australia, only this article from Gizmodo Australia back in 2012.

The idea? A continuously moving elevator that never needs to stop. Of course, that envisions users without the need to stop the lift, so it’s not exactly the most accessible concept. You need to be quick on and off the lift if you want to get to the floor fast.

It uses a looping mechanism to provide endless compartments for people to enter. Once a compartment gets to the top it’s cycled over to the side that goes down. Once it reaches the bottom, it goes back up, and so on.

Of course, although they’re kind of a cool efficiency idea, they’re not exactly safe. You can get trapped in the shaft between the floor and the compartments, which has resulted in several deaths. Some countries have banned the use of these lifts.

There are still some of these lifts around the world, such as the one at the Prague City Hall, but the benefits of modern lifts are hard to beat.

Rounding off the story of the humble Paternoster lift, Hitachi tried to reinvent the wheel back in 2006 with a circulating elevator. This model would introduce stopping features and doors to the concept, without the need to board a moving elevator. We haven’t seen it enter circulation just yet, but maybe one day. Maybe.