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Rising to the top
Published on Friday, 27 Nov 2009
Dixon Lee presses all the right buttons.
Photo: Felix Wong

What's the most-used form of public transport in Hong Kong? It isn't the MTR or even the bus. It's the lift.

In a city filled with thousands of high-rises, millions of people use lifts every day.

Many of those lifts are built and run by Otis, which operates 12,000 of them in Hong Kong and Macau. As buildings have become taller and more complex, the lift systems inside them have adapted, thanks largely to engineers such as Dixon Lee, a senior field manager at Otis.

In 1888, Otis installed Hong Kong's first lift in the six-storey Hong Kong Hotel, an ornate pile of masonry that dominated the Central skyline at the turn of the 20th century.

Needless to say, lifts have changed a lot since then. For the most part, they've become faster, larger and much more efficient. Some new lifts generate their own electricity. Many don't even need machine rooms, which eliminates the need for lubrication, reduces energy consumption and saves space.

In 2002, Lee oversaw the installation of Hong Kong's first double-deck, machine-roomless lift in the 407-metre IFC Two. In 2007 he drew from this experience to install the world's second set of "super double-deck" lifts in One Island East, a 308-metre office building in Quarry Bay.

While double-deck lifts allow passengers on two consecutive floors to use it at the same time, super double-deckers allow the space between the carriages to expand and contract, which gives architects the opportunity to design floors of different heights. There are six such lifts in One Island East, each travelling at six metres per second between the ground floor and sky lobbies on the 37th and 38th floors.

Installing such a complex system involves as much negotiation and last-minute problem solving as it does design work. Lee was involved with One Island East from the beginning. He attended the tender presentation to answer technical questions from the developer. During the design process, he dealt with the property owner, developer, architects, contractors and even delivery companies to figure out the best placement for the lifts. When it came time to install them, he had to keep his clients happy even as his suppliers in Japan failed to deliver lift parts on time.

In the summer of 2007, he learned that the part linking the two lift carriages would not be delivered before an October deadline, so he and his team had to improvise to meet their schedule.

"We discussed what to do well after office hours, right into drinking hours," he said. "We thought about all the options and decided which one would be the best. We came up with an idea to use a temporary linkage, but first we had to discuss with the factory whether they could make it for us." Luckily, they did.


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