Infrastructure Management

Rant: Lift failure & the lame wrath of the crowd

“There are no stairs,” said an unfortunate spokesman to the swelling crowd assembled by the lift area on the 35th floor at the Sky Garden.  He appeared nervous. It was not surprising. It was very easy to see how events could turn messy…

This is one of London’s flagship new buildings. It boasts a real-fake garden way up in the clouds, complete with a full wall of glass and gorgeous sloping greenhouse ceiling. From here it delivers panoramic views of the city below. Yet the lift was broken and everyone was stranded.

“Isn’t that a fire hazard?” barked a woman at the front with a bull dog stance. She spoke for everyone and a group of others moved forward slightly, as if by way of support.

The lift area was far darker than the bright glass landscaped floor. Hotel-like, it was set back from the sumptuous bar area and must have housed at least two dozen former meeting-goers anxious to make their escape. We’d already been pressing the buttons repeatedly for a good 10 minutes. The tone was beginning to get fractious.  

“Um…” the spokesman flinched in the face of the bleak crowd mood. “There are stairs but they don’t let you out the building… only into the basement.” A confusing story at the best of times and frankly, nobody was in the mood. 

It was beyond ludicrous. The whole building is a massive PR push. A shimmering tower to trump nature; a desperate bid to prove technology can easily gazump something as dull as gardening. It isn’t merely the manicured splendour of someone’s boring old civic botanical gardens – well, it isn’t that good – it is nature tamed and bunged in the sky.

The trouble is it had failed spectacularly. We were all stuck on the 35th floor outside some overpriced bar at 11am.

The spokesperson scuttled away to be replaced by a succession of lift engineers. These pressed buttons, opened and closed the doors and generally failed to make any difference whatsoever. Us individuals waiting paced back and forth tutting, checking mobile phones… and trying hard not to make eye contact.

We were extremely civilised and British crowd but when the spokesman returned you couldn’t miss the potential for ugliness. Imagine a revolt of two dozen frustrated business people, all peevish after a few minutes of compulsory tedium, deciding as one to manhandle this poor man above their heads and parade him round the offensive fake garden. He could have made be a primitive totem for all that is wrong and rubbish…

“You will be able to use the service lift,” he offered uneasily, although in reality he was in luck because he brought good news. “The trouble is… it can only take 10-people at a time”.

What followed was a mass stampede into the beautifully presented garden area, past the lovely circular bar where a disgruntled - if orderly - queue formed outside far dingier staff area which housed the service lifts. Here, in an odd approach to negating tech failure, a waiter stood beaming and holding his polished tray aloft.

Silly white napkin draped over one arm, he yodelled:

“Free water anyone?”


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