If you've been paying attention to office design trends in the last 10 years, you'll probably agree with me that the height of ceilings seem to have grown by leaps and bounds.

My theory on this trend is that office designers and tenants have reacted negatively to the cubicle environments of the 80's and 90's. Now, instead of having cubicles and drop ceilings as far as the eye can see, we have old airplane hangars with 100 foot tall ceiling and no walls. See the offices of renown architecture firm Foster & Partners.

While research does seem to suggest that taller ceilings tend to instill a sense of freedom in occupants, others believe that there are benefits to lower ceiling heights. When touring turnstone HQ a few years back, the team explained that one idea behind the Campfire Big Lamp was to create not only a light, but a structure beneath which people could feel more comfortable and calm. After my visit, I wrote this:

"One of the most interesting things about turnstone was the amount of research that goes into their products.  One product, Campfire, has a number of ideas present.  One that people like huddling around something, and two that people feel more comfortable when in a defined space.  Some of their research was simply observation in a Costco food court and noticing that people seemed to sit beneath tables with umbrellas more regularly, even though they were already inside."

I find this idea to be one that is reflected in current office design and planning programs. Instead of simply having an office with a huge ceiling, variable heights are being added to offices in order to affect certain feelings throughout the space.

"The ideal height for a space depends on the tasks you are planning to perform or the feelings you are trying to achieve. Ceiling height affects more than feelings – it can shift our thought processes as well, Meyers-Levy found.  Subjects in lower rooms tended towards more detail-oriented processing: They noticed a table’s rough-hewn underside, for example, even though the top's surface was smooth and polished. Their counterparts in the room with a 10-foot ceiling more frequently overlooked such details," said Lauren Friedman.

This trend seems to fit right in with the more varied approaches being delivered due to mobile and activity-based working principles. Instead of a one-size-fits-all (that doesn't actually fit all) augmenting a design to take into account what is actually being done seems like the correct thing to do.

In summary: bring those ceilings down a few notches when possible. Here are some ceilings that do just that in a variety of offices:

Pictured above: turnstone Campfire Big Table

Pictured above: Steelcase Think Chair

Pictured above: Coalesse (a Steelcase Brand) Bob Chair


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