Thursday 14 Jul 2011


Royal Courts of Justice: The Black Lift

Brief In April 2007, Purcell Miller Tritton was commissioned by Her Majesty’s Court Service to provide historic building and design advice for all listed court buildings. These include the Grade I listed Royal Courts of Justice, a 19th Century courthouse that still accommodates the Court of Appeal and the High Court.

As part of the work within the building they were asked to design a contemporary lift enclosure that would fit the building’s historic context. The project was to involve removal of an existing 9 person lift including the shaft structure and enclosure, and to install a 13 person lift within a steel and glazed structure.

Challenges The original Wadsworth Lift, installed shortly after the building opened in 1882, had a light-weight quality. Its car and frame were cage type structures made from slender iron bars with ornate wrought iron portals. However, fine mesh was added as part of safety upgrading work in around the 1950’s and the lift’s perceived delicacy was lost.

The main visual challenge was therefore to design a contemporary lift enclosure that would suit the character of the original building. Design Solution Although the new lift was to be substantially larger than the original, its visual bulk needed to be reduced. Glass was chosen as the main building material for its transparent and reflective qualities. Such a brief caused several technical challenges, as the lift had to be free standing. Fixing to the stone stairwell and balustrade was not an option except directly below each lift entrance, allowing attachment to the shaft’s front cross beams only.

The use of structural glass meant a more slender steel frame could be used and the specific design of the connections between the horizontal beams and columns allowed fewer beams to be used, giving a lighter feel to the structure. The original wrought iron portals were retained and remain in the original position. This suggests that the lift is not entirely new, rather a fitting, up to date replacement.

Purcell Miller Tritton