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Do Ceiling heights change your behaviour?

An excerpt of a research conducted by studioSW published on

Expert: Santosh Wadekar of studioSW


I grew up in a beautiful mansion in South Mumbai that was built nearly 100 years ago. An imposing five-storey colonial mansion with a Corinthian order facade, wrought iron grilles with Victorian emblems, Burma-teak balustrades and nearly two-foot-deep solid Burma-teak beams supporting the floors.

The most endearing aspect was the lofty 15-foot-high ceiling framed by deep teak-wood beams. As a child, I remember many afternoons lying on the red terracotta-tiled floor looking up at the ceiling and dreaming of stunning spaces that I eventually grew up to design as an architect. Somehow I felt that the house not only accommodated me physically, but it also had enough height to accommodate my creative ambitions. As I became an architect and started designing lavish houses for equally lavish clients, I realised that high ceilings were somehow conducive to creating dramatic and stunning spaces.

There is now research to point out that higher ceilings affect how we think. A higher ceiling evokes a sense of liberation, freedom, creative and abstract thinking, while lower ceilings help in detailed observations, specific vision and logical thinking.

This is not a mere observation, but is backed by various theories, the last one being my own, researched by my own studio.

Cathedral effect This is described as the effect of the perceived height of a ceiling on human thinking. Similar to a feeling of freedom, liberation and spirituality in a cathedral, the mind perceives the high ceiling as a space that is conducive to a more liberated and abstract thinking. Something that can evoke other-worldly, spiritual and out-of-body feelings.

Being in cellars with low ceilings evokes a feeling of restricted liberty, a sense of overall enclosure and tightness, of focusing on a limited field of vision. Forest effect Imagine being in a forest full of tall trees; your eyes will be drawn upwards along the lines of the trees and then outwards beyond the lines of the vertical trees, trying to search for an open space beyond. This action of the eye itself defines the vastness of the space. This encourages the eye to travel to observe the space and the character of the elements of the space. This is also how the eye behaves in a high-ceiling spaces.

Contrast this with a single tree in front of you. The eye will run up the bark of the tree and notice the texture and detail of the tree. The travel of the eye is significantly curtailed. This is exactly how the eye behaves in a shorter ceiling space.

Illumination A theory that I have put together is on how lighting for a space affects your vision. Higher ceilings have the sources of light installed much higher and hence there is a larger dispersed lighting. Secondly, the openings (windows and skylights) for natural light can be much higher too, thus bathing the room in ambient lighting, causing the eye to get an idea of the volume of the space.

However, for lower ceilings, the fall-off of the light from the ceiling is much shorter and the openings admitting natural lights are further down, causing on highlighted pools of lights on particular areas, thus causing a sense of focused lighting. This draws the eye to a particular object, hence encouraging the eye to focus on smaller things and details. Practical applications In a study of products kept in a store with taller ceilings, the buyers noticed the shape and package and the aspirational qualities of the space, while the same products displayed in a store with a shorter ceiling, the buyers noticed the details of the products and were less interested in buying the product.

Hence, you may notice that many lifestyle and decor stores will have high ceilings that can encourage aspirational sales while fast food outlets will typically have lower ceilings where people can buy and leave without loitering around.

So, next time you are designing the interior of your space, be it an office or your shown house, it would be wise to bear in mind how the ceiling heights will have a role to play on your overall thinking patterns.

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