Engineering elevates the ICC

PUBLISHED : Friday, 31 October, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 31 October, 2008, 12:00am

As a model village it is spectacular. There are buildings of all shapes and sizes in every direction, a sea with miniature ships, sculpted mountains, even tiny bathers sunning themselves byrooftop pools. Only this is no model.

Alan Campbell and Paul Easton, senior project director and project manager respectively for Schindler Lifts, are standing on the 99th floor of the unfinished International Commerce Centre (ICC), looking down on Hong Kong. They and their installation team have 83 lifts and 37 escalators to install in ICC which, by the time they finish their work in 2010, will serve 118 floors and carry up to 30,000 people a day.

The finished tower will be 490 metres high and the Schindler shuttle lifts connecting the ground to floor 118 will travel at more than 30km/h and complete the journey in under a minute. Those lift shafts will be the longest of any building in the world.

'It's a huge undertaking and because it's so ambitious we're doing things here that no one has done before. It's exciting, but yes, it definitely keeps you on your toes,' Mr Campbell said.

Mr Easton underlined the scope of the challenge. 'There's a lot riding on this for everyone. It's part of our job to worry about everything, and we do. Just working out the wiring diagram was worthy of a PhD, let alone all the technical innovations.'

Simon Kirk, CEO of Jardine Schindler Group, the joint venture between Jardine Matheson and Swiss lift and escalator giant Schindler that is supplying the ICC lift system, believes that the ICC will have an industry impact far beyond its status as a flagship project.

'The lift industry is more than 150 years old, but every couple of decades a major technical breakthrough comes along that enables architects to raise the bar - and the roof - of building design,' Mr Kirk said.

'The ICC project is certainly one such case. It marks a major step forward in the way lifts are controlled for maximum capacity, efficiency and user convenience.'

Designing lift systems for tall buildings is complex, challenging and highly sophisticated. It also involves a highly detailed calculation to find the optimum balance between the handling capacity of the lifts and the need to maximise the space available for lease to tenants. If that calculation fails, so can the entire building. For the developer, therefore, it is not just people riding in those lifts, it is an entire micro-economy.

For Colin Yu, the managing director of Schindler Lifts (Hong Kong), one particular challenge was making sure the lower zones of the building could be fully operational before the building structure was completed.

'The building is already occupied in the lower zones now, which obviously is a big plus for Sun Hung Kai and its tenants. From our side, because the overall lift system is so complex, that meant we had to make sure the computer network for the entire building was in place before we could switch on the low-rise lifts. It's a great credit to our project team that they were able to do that while the builders were still pouring concrete 50 or 60 floors further up.'

With upwards of 100 installation staff on site, multiple lift zones in different stages of development at various levels of the building - and those 37 escalators to get on site, Mr Yu stressed that successfully managing all the elements of the total project was more important than any one technical factor.

'A lift system comes together only on the construction site and on this one we are bringing together the latest in elevator engineering and controls in a complex multiyear installation,' he said.

The expertise already shown by the Hong Kong ICC project management team has been recognised internationally. Schindler's US company will be supplying the lifts to the Freedom Tower in New York, which will rise out of the site of the former World Trade Centre.

Mr Easton will spend time in New York helping the United States team go to school on the experience gained from ICC.