The US$2.1-billion renovation of the landmark UN Building in New York City involved strict design constraints, access-to-site limitations, very high security and Hurricane Sandy, to name just a few challenges. Project contractor Skanska USA approached Mobility Elevator & Lift Co. to help design four custom vertical wheelchair lifts to make various assembly halls wheelchair accessible. After several meetings and reviews of design proposals, Mobility was chosen as product supplier and installer.

Mobility approached its longtime partner and equipment manufacturer Savaria to help develop and complete the project’s design. The four lifts were custom designed with stainless-steel finish on exposed surfaces and frameless glass enclosure panels. The landing gates were also custom made with glass and stainless steel. The door closers used were recessed floor mounted.

One of the four lifts required a 90° exit/entry configuration, which further complicated the design. Per ANSI A18.1 codes, 90° models require power-operated landing gates, as well as a 42-in.-wide gate on the long side of the platform. Mobility considered several options for power gate operators, including a recessed floor-mounted model, but due to space constraints and other site limitations, this option was eliminated. Savaria designed an above-floor model powerful enough to operate the heavy all-glass and stainless-steel doors, while retaining a very sleek, minimalistic, modern design, which made project architects Einhorn Yaffee Prescott very happy.

Manufacturing was complete eight weeks after the design was chosen. Upon entering the site, all project personnel went through very stringent security clearance and background checks. The installation schedule had to be worked around the UN’s schedule, which was sometimes limited to only a couple of hours a day. Hurricane Sandy struck the city on October 29, 2012, which caused the East River to pour 2 ft. of water into 350,000 sq. ft. of newly renovated space in the building, along with extensive power outages.

Despite the obstacles, the elevator installation was completed in July 2013. Everyone involved felt a great sense of pride and happiness to be a part of this historic project.

Kamran Shushtarian is president and co-owner of Mobility Elevator and Lift Co. He has been working in the accessibility industry since 1984, having been involved in such New York City projects as the Statue of Liberty, Enterprise space shuttle viewing platform on the Intrepid museum, Madison Square Garden, MetLife Stadium, Citi Field, Metropolitan Art Museum, Museum of Modern Art, Lincoln Center, New York University and JPMorgan Chase Bank. He holds a degree in Mechanical Engineering from Kansas State University.