- Project plans
- Project activities
- Legislation and standards
- Industry context
Last edited 23 Nov 2017
Escalators are mechanical devices used for transporting people vertically between different levels of buildings. Typically, they take the form of a moving staircase, consisting of a 'chain' of single-piece aluminium or stainless steel steps guided by a system of tracks in a continuous loop.
Escalators are commonly used in buildings where the movement of a large number of people is required, such as shopping centres, airports, transit systems, exhibition halls, hotels, arenas, public buildings, and so on.
They occupy the same physical space as a staircase, generally have no waiting time (other than during periods of congestion), allow a greater flow of people, and can be more practical than lifts. It is also possible for people to walk up or down escalators, if they are in a hurry, or if they break down.
The first escalator was patented by two Americans, Leamon Souder and Nathan Ames, in the mid-19th century. However, their patented designs were never manufactured.
It wasn’t until the early-20th century that a working prototype designed by Charles Seeburger and Jesse Reno was produced. Their working model gained a lot of attention and was first installed in New York City’s department stores. In 1910, Seeburger and Reno sold their invention to the Otis Elevator Company.
The speed of escalators is constant and is generally around 0.3-0.6 m (1-2 ft) per second. This translates to around 27-55 m (90-180 ft) per minute. An escalator moving an average of 44 m (145 ft) per minute can transport over 10,000 people per hour, which is a considerably higher capacity than a standard lift system.
There are three basic configurations that are used for most common escalator systems:
- Parallel: Escalators positioned side-by-side, moving in opposite directions.
- Criss-cross: Escalators moving in one direction are ‘stacked’, minimising space requirements.
- Multiple parallel: A bank of two or more escalators, with differing directions.
There a number of factors that affect the design of escalator systems, including:
- The vertical and horizontal distance to be spanned.
- The location.
- Other building infrastructure.
- Traffic patterns.
- Carrying capacity.
- Safety considerations.
- Aesthetic preferences.
The following components make up an escalator system:
 Landing platforms
These contain the curved sections of the tracks, in addition to the gears and motors. The floor plate provides space for users to stand before stepping onto the moving steps. The comb plate has a series of cleats (like the teeth of a comb), that mesh with matching cleats on the edges of the steps and minimise the gap between the stair and the landing.
These are typically solid and made of die-cast aluminium or steel. They are cleated with comb-like protrusions that mesh with the comb plates. The steps are linked by a continuous metal chain that forms a closed loop.
The steps, connected in series, always step level as they move. The steps create a flat platform at both the top and the bottom of the escalator by collapsing on each other. This works by way of the two sets of wheels on each step. The upper set of wheels are connected to the rotating chains, pulled by the gears at the top of the escalator. The lower set of wheels follow behind and just glide along on their track.
Escalators are driven by a motor and chain system inside the truss. At its core are a pair of chains looped around two pairs of gears. The gears at the top of the escalator are turned by an electric motor, which in turn rotates the chain loops. The electric motor also powers the moving handrail which is looped around a series of wheels and is configured so that it moves at a similar speed to the steps.
 Find out more
 Related articles on Designing Buildings Wiki
Featured articles and news
What benefits does BIM bring to construction projects?
New Wiki site is set to make BIM mainstream.
And the award winners for 2019 are...
Articles of agreement
Guidance for local authorities and consultancies setting planning conditions.
A real deal – at last?
How does anastylosis help in the reconstructing of ancient monuments?
More than just aesthetic and historic values and meanings.
An exciting and novel collaboration between the RIBA and the SPAB.
Republic of Ireland updates to planning and development.
The different types of pile foundation.
Achieving a net-zero carbon UK by 2050.