Look Up: Celebrate the Ceiling
For centuries, ceilings have served as a focal point and source of inspiration. Whether it’s the vaulted ceiling of New York’s Grand Central Terminal or the sheer artistry of the Sistine Chapel, the “fifth wall” has played a central role in enhancing buildings and inspiring their occupants.
With the standardization of office space, however, ceilings have largely been relegated to the functional purpose of improving acoustics or hiding a mechanical system. There’s even a running joke that the only two people who look up inside today’s buildings are the architect and the contractor.
Thanks to the availability of new materials, products, and technology, architects and designers have new opportunities to rediscover—and harness the full potential of—this valuable canvas.
A good place to start is by fully understanding and leveraging our design tools. Today’s 3-D modeling software allows us to bring a space to life with more precision and efficiency than ever before. Incorporating all of the FFE (furniture, fixtures and equipment) items within the model helps to reinforce alignments and spatial relationships, as well as communicate these more easily with our clients.
Designers now have access to a growing array of sophisticated ceiling products, including larger-format, free-floating acoustic ceiling tiles and advanced LED lighting products. These resources, which used to be considered premium and too expensive for most project budgets, are quickly becoming a standard component in our toolbox.
We’re also installing non-traditional materials on the walls and ceiling of a space. That includes using printed polycarbonate, wood, or ceramic tile to create three-dimensional volumes that extend from the floor to the wall to the ceiling. The growing availability of durable printable materialsand super graphics opens up a world of creative possibilities. As an example, a technology client recently commissioned a graffiti artist to create a “street art” graphic on the walls and ceiling of its new offices in Santa Clara.
Exposed ceilings can convey a raw, industrial aesthetic, but they often present acoustical and logistical challenges. It can be costly to reroute existing mechanical systems, and it becomes even more complicated with the addition of clouds or baffles to improve the acoustical performance in certain areas.
Sometimes, minimalism is the desired aesthetic. At the new T3 office building that recently opened in Minneapolis, the ceilings are intentionally sparse and uncluttered. The seven-story building’s wood-frame structure features raised floors that accommodate air, power, and technology, so the ceiling’s primary function is to convey the warmth of the material.
It’s vital the creative solution not compromise the comfort of occupants or the overall performance of the space. Each strategy should deliver the aesthetic and acoustic requirements of its unique environment—whether it’s a break room, conference room, huddle room, or individual workspace. It also must be cognizant of adjacent functions.
As the appetite for high-quality interior space continues to grow, ceilings offer endless design opportunities to inspire occupants, distinguish a space, and convey an organization’s unique brand and culture.