Schindler’s guide to elevator planning and design

What you need to know to design beautiful, efficient modern elevators in any type of multi-story building.

Residential and commercial lift planning for architects and designers

At the heart of every beautiful and highly functional multi-story building are its often-unsung heroes: the elevators. Whether more basic or sophisticated, for every elevator design, there was a careful plan that considered the needs of the building’s occupants.

If you want to create an impactful and well-designed building that gets people easily from floor to floor, you can’t overlook the practical importance of elevators early in the planning stages. Elevator designs must consider a variety of needs, from budget to capacity, and take into account a practical understanding of specifications, dimensions and regulatory codes.

Schindler offers a variety of materials, technologies and formats that can make your project a success. Understanding the options and asking the right questions will open the door to inspiration.

This guide will help you to consider essential elements when choosing the right Schindler elevator for your new construction or modernization project.

Choose topic of interest:

Select the right type of elevator for your project

Whether you’re starting a new architectural project or modernizing an existing structure, the first consideration in elevator design is the type of building you are designing. Residential, commercial, office, hotel and educational buildings will have different requirements for elevator functionality, style, capacity and durability. Certain types of buildings such as hospitals, hotels, retail buildings, sports or expo centers will have specific needs as well.

Choosing elevator models and materials for your building’s use will help ensure the effective performance and long-term durability of your equipment, while serving the users’ needs appropriately. A Schindler modular elevator can ensure you achieve just the right mix of customization and functionality for your project.

Types of elevators

There are three main types of elevators. These elevators have different dimensions to achieve their intended transport objectives.

  • Elevators that primarily transports people are called Passenger Elevators. 
  • While elevators that carries goods or larger objects are called Service Elevators. 
  • For even heavier loads, like cars or cargo, there are Freight Elevators.

Elevator hoist systems

Another important part of picking the right elevator is to select the best hoist system. There are two main types.

  • Hydraulic Elevators are lifted by pistons from below and are usually only used in low-rise buildings. 
  • Traction Elevators operate via a pulley system. There are two types of traction elevators: Gearless Traction and Geared Traction. One final option concerns the machine room.

Today, it’s possible to install elevators both with or without machine rooms.

How building type affects elevator design

A building’s purpose and the amount of traffic planned will have a significant impact on the selection and design of its elevators.

The number of people who pass through the entrance, lobby and elevator(s) each day, if the transport of equipment is required and the total weight the elevator must be able to move at one time, will all impact the style or model of elevator needed.

Another key factor in elevator selection is the size of the building. How many stories is it, and what amount of space can be allocated to the elevator shaft, as well as the machine room.

Finally, key building codes must be considered. For example, if the project will be in an area prone to earthquakes, then the elevators must meet seismic requirements.

The answers to the following questions will help ensure you select the right elevator model for your project:

  • What type of building are you designing: office, residential, educational, retail, hotel?
  • How tall is the building?
  • Does the building design allow for a machine room, or do you need a machine room-less system?
  • Will equipment be moved in the elevator?
  • How many elevators will be required by code?Is a service elevator required?
  • Is a handicap-accessible elevator required?Is the building in a seismic zone?

Elevator dimensions that impact your plan

In addition to the building type and purpose, a number of important factors will influence the size and capacity of the elevator needed for your building design.

The elevator shaft dimensions are defined early, as a part of the overall design and planning. It’s important, however, to base the shaft dimensions on a comprehensive analysis of what is needed. To begin with the choice of elevator will determine if, and where, a machine room is required, and that must be incorporated into the plans. The thickness of walls and the materials needed to support the shaft are other considerations. Finally, the well amount and the size or capacity of the elevators will determine the dimensions of the hoistway.

All these needs must be analyzed before the design is finalized, as this will ensure accurate cost projections and allow for better planning. Lack of analysis can impact both budgets and delivery times.

In cases of modernization projects, verifying the elevator shaft dimensions and ensuring that the elevator dimensions fit within the available space is essential to accurate cost projections and design precision. For safety reasons, it is important that this is done by a trained elevator technician.

Certain specification details will be important when selecting and ordering your elevator and planning your building design. The factors below include key dimensions that influence the initial planning of your building.

Number of elevators

Car width and Car depth

The car dimensions are dependent on the intended usage, as well as the desired load capacity (in weight) and landing-to-landing distance. Using the Schindler Plan & Design tool, the correct dimensions can be calculated based on your building use and the transport needs.

Car height

Larger cars are often used in premium buildings or service elevators to provide a more comfortable ride for passengers. A higher car height also allows for the transport of goods, which would be useful in the service elevators in commercial buildings or elevators intended for moving furniture in residential buildings.

Shaft (hoistway) width and depth

The width, depth of the elevator hoistway are essential to correctly planning your building design and are fully dependent on the car dimensions.

Shaft (hoistway) height

The expected travel for the elevator, the speed, the type of system (MRL or MR), help to define the pit and headroom requirements needed below the first landing and above the top floor.

Entrance dimensions

The elevator’s intended usage, such moving equipment or machines, impacts the entrance size and the style of doors needed for your elevator. You’ll want to know the maximum and minimum height and width that will work for the entrance. The door dimensions are also critical for elevators that need to meet certain accessibility codes.

Robust elevator performance requires functional planning

Anticipating the practical needs of your building’s occupants is part of the overall elevator planning. Several key considerations will affect your choice for selections such as:

  • How many elevators are needed and what type (e.g. passenger, freight, etc.)?
  • Capacity and design
  • Travel speed
  • Elevator door type (e.g. side opening, center opening)
  • Rear opening door (or only front opening)

How many elevators are needed and which type?

Local ordinances may dictate the minimum number based on safety and evacuation needs, but you can follow some general rules of thumb to determine the number of elevators required.

Office buildings

You will need passenger lifts and, for larger office buildings, you will also need service lifts. For passenger lifts, detailed planning is required. Key factors that influence the number of elevators include number of users, number of floors, and if communal areas (e.g. large meeting rooms, employee restaurant) are on an upper floor.

Hotels / Motels

Typically, elevators that provide passenger and service functionality are needed. In smaller hotels the same elevator might serve both purposes. The number of passenger lifts is based on the maximum number of guests. However, if meeting rooms, restaurants or a lobby are located above the ground floor, additional elevators may be required.

Apartment / Condominium / Dormitory

The number of passenger lifts is based on the maximum number of residents. When arranging the lifts in an apartment building, a central elevator bank provides more efficiency and reduces waiting time for tenants, as opposed to dedicated elevators in the individual wings of the building.

Looking at capacity and design

What dimensions and size of elevator does your building need?

Making decisions about the elevator size and the type of elevator needed rests on some practical considerations, such as capacity, building use and the additional external restriction to the number of passengers that can travel together, such as social distancing guidelines.

One of the key factors in determining the size of the elevator is based on the number of people or size of goods that need to be moved each day. Factors, such as peak periods (i.e. time when traffic is higher) or social distancing guidelines, can influence the elevator size. Once it’s clear how many people the elevator will need to transport, the elevator dimensions can be defined.

To determine the best elevator to fit your building needs, Schindler elevator offers the Schindler Plan & Design tool to provide the exact dimensions recommended for your building. 

Elevator use and impact on dimensions

Elevators intended for passenger transport are typically wider than deep. This allows for faster transfer times since the passengers remain closer to the doors.

In larger hotels, commercial office or residential buildings, service elevators are often required in addition to passenger elevators. These elevators allow for moving of larger material and equipment and are often deeper than they are wide.

Door opening options

In addition to the size, there are important considerations around which door type to select. For example, a single center open or a two-speed side-door opening? Should it be a left- or right-hand variety? Is a rear opening door needed?

Typically, C2 doors are used in commercial applications such as office buildings. T2 doors are often uses in residential applications and C4+ are often reserved for modernization, service or freight applications.

Wheelchair and stretcher access must also be considered when selecting the correct elevator door for residential and commercial buildings. Typically, elevators provided with side-opening doors do not pose a problem in meeting these requirements. But when an elevator has center-opening doors, a more careful selection must be made.

Designing elevator interiors goes beyond aesthetics

Elevator design in multi-story buildings for hotels, shopping centers, sport complexes, offices, apartments and condos and other buildings goes beyond style and finishes. Well-designed elevators not only add to the real estate value, but also contribute the overall functionality of the building.

The elevators must be designed to be durable and withstand the level of traffic and type of usage they get on a daily, monthly and yearly basis. Elevators can also be used to effectively control access to floors and provide building security.

If elevators are intended to move equipment, they may experience a much higher risk of wall damage and show signs of wear and tear quickly. Well-designed buildings account for these factors and use materials and finishes in the elevator that help buildings hold their long-term value.

Some important considerations in elevator design include:

Entrance finish

The visual look of the elevator entrance and the landing can add to the overall design sense of the building. Manufacturers may offer many different types and finishes so the elevator landings complement the overall building design.

Interior finishes

Durability and cost will be important considerations for many building designs. Floor, wall and ceiling panels are available in a wide array of materials and types including stainless steel, metallic laminate, colored laminate, wood laminate, wood, glass, and custom finishes. However, for custom interiors, it is important to consider the weight impact on the elevator system and capacity of the elevator.

Control panel

The car operating panel is a navigational panel within the car. The control panel can range from a half-height to full-height panel, protruding or flush with the wall with a variety of materials, finishes and types. Additional technology can also be integrated into the panel such as touchless systems, customizable video content and digital media, as well as access control, among many other options. Vandal resistant fixtures are also available in areas where damage to the system is more likely.


The style of lighting, such as spot or square lights, can add to the aesthetic as well as security of the elevator. Automatic on/off lighting and LED also help reduce the power consumption of the elevator.

Ceiling design

Aluminum, tile, stainless steel, bronze, veneers and powder coatings are just some of the finishes you could consider for your elevator ceiling.


Hand-rail options in the elevator can lend to the safety of the passengers as well as providing the practical benefit of working as bumpers to prevent damage to the elevator walls.

Selecting finishing materials

There are literally thousands of options possible for finishing the walls, ceiling and floors of your elevator. Some of the common ones to consider include:

Stainless steel

Durable, tried and true stainless steel provides unmatched production that won’t chip, bend or crack. It’s easy to maintain, won’t rust and will look shiny for many years to come. Powered coatings to add colors ensure that even the most durable surface can fit the design of your building.


Laminate panels provide a warm, creative finish to the walls. Durable modern materials are impact-resistant and give you plenty of color and design options to express a unique style.


Many luxury elevators use flat or curved glass to create a visual experience for passengers. However back-painted glass offers this same premium aesthetic while offering unique design options, such as an ombre finish.


Custom interiors can also be added to elevators. However, be careful not to overlook the weight factor when selecting these finishes.

Consider elevator regulations and codes from the start

Elevator design and installation are governed by a number of different regulations and building and safety codes. These codes can vary across various countries, states and even between cities. Local ordinances may cover everything from elevator size limits to minimum number of elevators in a building to restrictions on types of elevators allowed.

Ordinances may also cover power usage requirements, accessibility (for people with disabilities), safety precautions and inspections required during installation and in maintenance.

Working with experienced elevator manufacturers will ensure your project meets the local requirements.

Seismic activity

In some locations, ordinances may also have special provisions for seismic activity. If the multi-story building you’re planning is in a location with a volcanic or earthquake risk, your design and material options may face special restrictions. It’s important to work with an elevator manufacturer that understands these requirements.


In some locations, it is required to have local fire codes. Most elevators, for example, need to have completely fire-resistant doors.

The Schindler Plan & Design make sure the elevator complies with the required norms.

Enhancing or modernizing the elevators in your project

When refurbishing or renovating a building there are several possibilities when it comes to elevators. While the overall objective is to modernize the elevator, there are also options that will increase efficiency.

Overall, the options can be divided into the following categories:

  • Increasing traffic efficiency
  • Improving performance
  • Making the elevator more energy efficient
  • Improving passenger experience

Creating the right elevator design

Finding the right fit between form and function with your elevator designs can make a difference in your client’s budget as well as ensure proper functioning. In addition to choices about style, color, lighting and car size, you have many other options that can help you create an elevator that serves an integral role in the day-to-day use of your customer’s building.

Related articles