thyssenkrupp joins forces with Make Architects to create Harrods escalator system with Art Deco and Edwardian flourishes.

Photos courtesy of Make Architects

Harrods, Europe’s largest and arguably most upscale department store, has stood out as a beacon of quality and tradition since it opened in 1834 in Knightsbridge, London. Every detail in every corner of the 90,000-m2 store aims to reflect its rich history, yet also provide modern conveniences, such as escalators, upon which shoppers have come to rely.

When renovating its grand entrance escalator hall on Basil Street, designed by J.L. Harvey and completed in 1939, the store saw a unique opportunity to revisit the historic charm that helped build its reputation. The task was to prove escalators could move people efficiently, while still cutting a dashing figure. In conjunction with Make Architects, thyssenkrupp Elevator delivered a striking, bespoke system that cloaks modern engineering in Art Deco and Edwardian elegance. Part of a US$24.6-million store overhaul, the escalator project began in January 2016 and was delivered in November 2016. Sixteen new escalators replaced units installed in the 1980s. They traverse a height of 35 m to serve all seven floors.

Make drew inspiration from Harrods archives. The firm elaborates:

“Layers of post-1930s refurbishments were stripped away to reveal the original features, and new contemporary interpretations of the materials and finishes have been applied to complement the Art Deco design, concentrating on the themes of permanence, longevity and elegance.

“The simple move to flip the configuration of escalators, thereby mirroring their previous position, has resulted in better circulation and clear sightlines to upper and lower floors, opening up the grand entrance and enticing people into the halls. Lightwells located on the second- and fourth-floor landings follow their original 1930s design, and have been restored to provide glimpses of the store all the way from the new, lower contemporary menswear department to the new glass dome that replaced the 1980s roof light.”

Make said original metal and glasswork from the 1930s was recovered and incorporated, along with original chandeliers and one replica chandelier. A large, elaborate chandelier designed by American artist Dale Chihuly hangs in the triple-height entrance hall. The walls and floors were redone in white and black marble quarried and cut in Italy. Architects carefully selected each block and slab to cover some 500 m2. 

The escalators were manufactured by thyssenkrupp in Germany, with the new metalwork fabricated in Hong Kong and China. Preserved metal and glass pieces were worked on by London-area restoration specialists. Escalators and their cladding components came together at facilities on the outskirts of London before being transported to Knightsbridge.

The 1930s were not the only period in which the architects found inspiration. Taking a cue from the building’s Edwardian façade, they proposed a striking copper and bronze cladding for the escalator balustrades, which provided an elegant and period-appropriate covering for the modern engineering underneath.

Harrods and Escalators: A Heady Combination

Harrods has a long history of influence in fashion but perhaps a lesser-known reputation for its innovation in escalators. In November 1898, Harrods opened England’s first “moving staircase,” which proved to be such a heady experience that many visitors got a brandy after their first ride to calm them down.

One hundred years later, in 1998, Harrods debuted the Egyptian escalator (in a different part of the store than the Art Deco escalators). Designer William George Mitchell called it his masterpiece, and, shortly after completion, it was placed on the National Heritage List for England, underscoring its cultural significance.

The Latest in Escalator Fashion

The most recent project involved upgrading the escalators’ design, as well as their technology and safety. The installation process proved daunting: All escalators had to be lifted from the street, over the building and down through a skylight on a tight schedule. Street closures and customer disturbances had to be minimized, so the entire process had to be wrapped up in two weekends. A skilled engineering team oversaw a smooth installation, but some extra primping was in store for these units — and an additional four months were set aside to provide sufficient time for handcrafting their unique cladding.

“We took factory-fresh escalators and, soon, they were being welded and covered with fixtures and fittings,” Craig Scaddan, senior project manager at thyssenkrupp Elevator, explains.

“The end result is absolutely fantastic.”

The sleek lines of copper bronze handiwork by Evans Turner are not only eyecatching ornamentation, but also cleverly hide the lighting and sprinklers, much like the hood hides the engine of a car. “After the project was completed, I took my wife to see the finished article. She was very impressed by the escalators, but she was also very impressed by the handbag department,” Scaddan jokes.

A Final Touch of Inspiration

With the cladding, the escalators have become another key sculptural element in Harrods, and another reason to visit the store. The Harrods escalator hall reveals how detailing can add a final touch to help make cities more imaginative and vibrant. Instead of focusing on just practicality, technology can be integrated into urban life without sacrificing aesthetics. Sometimes, it may even enhance them. Today, Harrods continues to set precedents in style and mobility, including through the new escalator system.

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