Theses Master's

Finding Enclosure: Uncovering the Aesthetic Role of the Birdcage Elevator in Skyscraper Interiors, 1890-1900

Menegus, Sara

Although the interiors of many historic high-rise buildings are equipped with historic elevators, these machines are routinely omitted from restoration work due to perceptions that they lack architectural significance. This thesis challenges such notions by demonstrating that historic elevators not only represented cohesive and conscientiously-designed parts of historic interiors, but that they frequently performed an aesthetic function in addition to a mechanical one. By focusing on the “birdcage elevator,” a type of historic elevator marked by characteristic decorative enclosure screens, this thesis unpacks the aesthetic impact of passenger elevators during the nineteenth century, giving particular consideration to the overwhelming presence of birdcage elevators within the lobbies of many 1890s skyscrapers. The thesis undertakes a robust analysis of these 1890s birdcage elevators through a variety of contexts including; tracing the range of stylistic influences which informed their design from the Beaux Arts movement to the organic architecture of Louis Sullivan, understanding their production as an outgrowth of a burgeoning nineteenth-century metalworking industry, and demonstrating how placement of these elevators in proximity to light courts facilitated both natural light and intricate shadow within building interiors.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Historic Preservation
Thesis Advisors
Otero-Pailos, Jorge
M.S., Columbia University
Published Here
September 25, 2018


Additional keywords: Hecla Iron Works, Winslow Brothers, Bradbury Building