Hacking An Elevator To Create A Perpetual Energy-Wasting Machine

Artist Niklas Roy’s project sends a museum’s elevator up and down, ad infinitum.

Where most people see a slightly less onerous way to get upstairs, Niklas Roy saw an irresistible canvas. Earlier this year, the artist turned the elevator at the WRO Art Center in Wroclaw, Poland, into a work of art itself, installing a rope and pulley mechanism that sends the cabin back and forth between the museum’s first and second floors, ad nauseum, using nothing but the energy of the elevator’s opening doors. If it sounds pointless, well, that’s the point. Roy calls it the Perpetual Energy Wasting Machine.


When the museum asked Roy to compose an installation, he immediately saw the elevator’s artistic potential. For one, he says, it had a nice, central location, visible through a window to the street outside. It was also a main point of traffic in the museum; visitors enter on the ground floor, he explained, and typically take the lift straight to the second floor, where the exhibitions are located.

The contraption itself was born out of the Roy’s curiosity about energy and the laws of conservation. He knew he wanted to create a piece that operated entirely on the power of the elevator itself–“something like a mechanical parasite,” he explains–so he designed a pulley system that directly connected to the elevator on both floors. When the doors on the first floor open, they pull on a piece of rope attached to a mechanism upstairs that immediately punches the call button on that floor, and vice versa. After discussing his idea with the museum’s directors, Roy became curious about just how much energy the elevator actually used. So he added another component to the installation: a modified calculator in the elevator cabin that keeps track of the energy wasted with every ride–about 5.9 kilojoules every time it gets pulled up from the first floor to the second.

But in a world of diminishing resources, can we afford art that deliberately wastes them? Roy addressed the concern in a comment on the MAKE website. Despite the world’s widespread economic crises, he points out, Poland’s GDP has grown continuously over the last 10 years. “There isn’t any other country in Europe with such a steady growing economy,” he says, “…I thought that Poland, becoming richer and richer, can afford to have such a machine.” In fact, he says, the piece stands to make Poland even richer, in a “metaphysical way.”

Maybe so, but 5.9 kilojoules times infinity is going to be a lot of energy wasted. Thankfully, the piece didn’t quite live up to its billing. After a few hours, the heat produced by the elevator’s continuous operation caused it to shut down, and the museum had to call a technician to get it working again. He advised that the staff let the contraption run for an hour, and then give it some time to cool off. “At the end,” Roy says, “the law of conservation of energy renders the title of this project incorrect. ‘Electricity Wasting Machine With Limited Perpetuation’ would be a more correct description.”

Read more about the machine on Roy’s website.

[Hat tip: Creative Applications]