Going Up

Terminal 1 at Toronto’s Lester B. Pearson International Airport has two lounges: one above for those departing, and one below for those arriving. Shuttling people between these huge spaces are elevators as large as the living room of any new Toronto condominium. They glide up and down to the soundtrack of Dr. Who: air hisses, pistons slide, and gases are released. You and your parcels are whisked, in stainless steel splendor, to one of two stops along a very short route.

These giant closets are 19 by 10 feet, with terrazzo floors and brushed-steel ceiling tiles. A black glass globe hangs from above, watching those inside. Discretely mounted on a wall by the door is a sign declaring that the vessel can accommodate up to 7,000 kilograms or 96 people -a small wedding, really.

Thyssenkrupp, a German manufacturer of sophisticated mechanical products, built the elevators at its Canadian division in Toronto. If you thought it was cheaper to build this kind of top-flight technical equipment in Asia, it isn’t. By the time an 190-square-foot room, along with its gears, columns and bits, are packed and placed into a cargo container, you’ve lost most of your Third World wage advantage to the high cost of shipping. And if something goes wrong as a plane load of winter vacationers are headed for the airport, it is faster to get replacement parts when they come from Scarborough, Ont., than Shenzeng, China.

Pearson Airport has 16 identical elevators in its front vestibule. They are part of the $50-million contract for conveying systems that also includes moving sidewalks escalators. A technician involved said that their “flight time” is 15 seconds -the time it takes for the doors to close on one floor and open on the next. Remarkable, considering there could be over half a ton of people and goods needing to disembark.

Common elevators are really no more than moving cubicles stuffed with people. Sometimes they’ll have wood panelling and slick corner detail, with a TV fixed above the door, broadcasting the weather or where your stocks are headed. What makes Pearson’s elevators special is the amount of real estate. Dress a small room up anyway you like and it will still be small. But walk into an elevator at Toronto’s airport and that old jealousy of only Charlie getting to ride in Willy Wonka’s elevator will soon fade away. cI