Ceilings— every building has them, but most are not very interesting. Look up … is it worth looking at?
The most famous ceiling in the world may be in the Sistine Chapel at the Vatican, but there are a multitude of remarkably creative ceilings elsewhere around the world that feature intricately patterned elements, mesmerizing vaulted tiled domes, and complex geometric designs in every hue and texture imaginable.
Some of these commercial-use ceilings are just a few years old and others were inspired a thousand years ago by followers of different spiritual institutions around the world. Many of them have become cultural meccas for the religious faithful, lovers of art, or as places of commerce.
Religiously-Inspired: Complicated and Elaborate
The Nasīr al-Mulk Mosque in Shiraz, Iran is called the Pink Mosque due to the use of pink tiles on the walls. It was built over the course of twelve years and finished in 1888. Nasīr al-Mulk uses traditional Persian design elements such as panj kāseh-i (five concaves) as well as extensive use of colored glass, which is unusual for mosque architecture. Striking pink, yellow, black, and blue tiles in the domes of this building give a kaleidoscopic appearance to this place of prayer.
Also in Shiraz is Shāh Chérāgh, a mosque and tomb that dates back to the Zengid dynasty in the 1100s, and remains an important destination for pilgrims today. Shāh-é-Chérāgh is Persian for “King of the Light” and relates to how the site was discovered when a light was found radiating from the burial site of the sons of a celebrated Sunni scholar. This may have been the inspiration for the mosaic green and blue ceiling tiles that reflect glittering light across the dome’s 36-meter high interior.
Longshan Temple in Lukang, Taiwan was built at the end of the Ming Dynasty in the mid-1600s. It features carved and painted wooden ceiling panels in an octagonal shape called a “caisson” or “spider web” ceiling that contains levels which successively get smaller as they near the ceiling. The skilled builders who erected this structure managed to make it without using a single nail to hold the wooden segments together.
The Basilica of Our Lady in Trastevere in Rome, Italy has a richly gilded and coffered wooden nave ceiling. It is one of the oldest churches in Rome (its basic structure dates back to 340 AD), and is possibly the first church where mass was openly celebrated after Roman rule.
Saint Mary’s Church in Studley Royal Park, England was created in the Victorian Gothic style of architecture and was completed in 1878. White limestone arches support the vaults of the nave and apse which depict saints and angels in rich and resplendent colors on gilded and painted stone and marble.
Another Gothic style church with an extraordinary ceiling is the Grote of Sint-Bavokerk (or High Church of St. Bavo) in Haarlem, Netherlands. Dating back to the late 1400s, the ceiling of the nave is cedar and stone and hovers 30 meters above a paved stone floor, each stone of which is a gravestone marking the resting place of a well-known Haarlem resident.
Ceilings of Buildings with Cultural Uses: Geometric and Colorful
The name for the Cosmovitral Botanical Garden in Toluca, Mexico is a portmanteau of the Spanish words for cosmos and glass and describes the ceiling of this amazing building very well. Done in the art deco style, the ceiling exhibits a colorfully-hued stained glass mural that runs along the ceiling and around the perimeter of the building. It is the largest piece of stained glass artwork in the world, and took four years to complete.
Built in 1605 by a Spanish nobleman, the Castle of Sammezzano in Tuscany, Italy was once a residence for Italian royalty. After WWII, the palazzo was used as a luxury hotel, but has been abandoned and closed to the public. The Peacock Room showcases the complex geometrics of Moorish design in jewel tones of translucent glazed ceramic tiles.
The Hall of Ambassadors (Salón de Embajadores) at the Alcázar of Seville, Spain was built by the Almohad Caliphate in the 12th century and features a cedar gilded dome with intricate geometric designs of Moorish influence. The interlocking star patterns and teardrop shapes in the gilded wooden dome are meant to symbolize the universe.
The Taj Mahal or “crown of palaces” in Uttar Proadesh, India is a mausoleum created by Emperor Shah Jahan as a dedication to his wife. It was completed in 1653 after 20 years of construction. Under the onion-shaped dome is a pink-hued ceiling of translucent white marble with a sandstone interior that sits 35 meters above the main hall. Artisans used an incised painting technique on the sandstone of the dome ceiling in which designs are etched into the stone and a thick paint is deposited into the etched channel.
The iridescent green ceiling (called Heaven of Delight) of the Mirror Room in the Royal Palace in Brussels, Belgium is covered in the wings of millions of Thai jewel beetles. The ceiling was a commissioned project by a Flemish artist, and it took four months in 2002 for a team of 29 assistants to glue the shells into patterns on the ceiling.
Preston Bradley Hall in the Chicago Cultural Center was first built in 1897 and restored in 2008. It features a translucent dome made of over 2,800 fish scale-shaped pieces of hand blown Tiffany Favrile glass, an iridescent colored glass which covers 1,000 square feet of space. The artistic glass pieces subtly change color throughout the day as natural light shines through the darker pieces at the base of the dome which gradually gets lighter towards the center.
The Great Court of the British Museum in London uses tessellated panes of glass to cover the the courtyard of the museum, making it the largest covered public square in Europe. Because of the shape of the ceiling, each individual pane of glass held between the almost 5,000 metal rods had to be made in a unique shape.
Commercial Ceilings: Extravagant use of Innovative Materials
At this commercial site the ceiling for an Aēsop skin care products store in Adelaide is composed of 7,560 recycled amber colored glass bottles. The undulating waves of amber glass in this ceiling are a nod to sustainability for this retailer who features botanical formulas that are sold in the bottles. Two other stores were made from cardboard packaging and recycled newspapers.
The bamboo skewer-covered ceiling in the former Tides Restaurant in New York evokes the lush landscape of an inverted meadow of sea grass. Architects delicately arranged 110,000 skewers into topographical waves of bamboo giving it a comforting, natural feel and sustainable character.
The original Tiffany-designed mosaic dome at what was then Marshall Fields (now Macy’s) in Chicago was built in 1907 using over 1.6 million pieces of iridescent glass, and took fifty men a year and a half to finish. Still the largest of its kind, this ceiling is made of a special type of favrile glass in which different colors of glass are mixed while the glass is still hot, giving it an iridescent effect.
Modeled after the Baths of Caracalla in Rome, the Romanesque hall of the Bank of Commerce Building in Toronto features a coffered vaulted ceiling with pale azure octagonal panels set off by gilding. The inscription around the chandelier reads “Integrity, providence, commerce, industry” in a nod to the tradition of Canadian banking. Column-less vaulted limestone ceilings give the feeling of a cathedral and inspire confidence in the strength and reputation of the bank.
Still the largest glass sculpture ever made, the Fiori di Como in the Bellagio Hotel lobby in Las Vegas, Nevada was created by glass blowing artist Dale Chihuly in 1998, after two years of construction. The vibrant garden of 2,000 hand-blown multicolored glass blossoms is suspended under a back-lit ceiling, and consists of 40,000-pounds of glass supported by a 10,000-pound steel armature.
The Toledo Metro Station in Naples, Italy is just one of several stations on the metro line that have been transformed into transportation museums. Over 100 artist have contributed to this set of ongoing public art exhibits that will connect art lovers and metro riders alike.
Ithaa Undersea Restaurant at the Conrad Maldives Rangali Island Hotel in the Indian Ocean–Arabian Sea features an ever-changing ceiling, alive with an amazing diversity of fish in tropical cyan waters that glitter in the sunlight above. An iridescent coral garden surrounds the room with a curved glass ceiling containing 180-degree panoramic views of the prismatic and luminous surrounding waters.