Features The Cathedral Effect

Architecture for ideas, epic ceiling heights are proven to promote creative thinking.

When The Post Building completes in 2019, what will be most apparent about the 263,000 sq ft office space is its remarkable volume, with ceilings that reach up to six metres. Beneath these cathedral ceilings will be an unprecedented sense of space and volume, designed to stimulate ideas and improve working life. 

The potency of ‘the cathedral effect’ is tried and tested. A few years ago, academic researchers Joan-Meyes Levy and Rui Zhu undertook a study that put a set of willing candidates in two rooms: one had a 10-foot-high ceiling and the other a eight-foot-high ceiling. They were then given tests to examine how free their thinking was in each space. 

Participants were asked to complete anagrams about freedom (using words including ‘unlimited’ and ‘liberated’). Those in the taller room completed the test far quicker than those under the eight-foot-high ceiling. The experiment also showed that higher ceilings enable freer, more creative thinking. The candidates had to list the links between 10 types of sport. Those under the higher ceiling not only suggested more ideas, but their suggestions were more abstract and bigger-picture in nature. The conclusion was that high ceilings encourage psychological freedom and therefore more liberated creative thinking. 

Of course, high ceilings are also incredibly functional. They help ventilate well-populated internal spaces; they also allow for more natural light. These two factors have a hugely positive impact on people, especially workers, which is why high ceilings are typical in factories, warehouses and workshops. 

Studies have also shown that we generally perceive spaces with taller ceilings to be more beautiful. This could be something engrained in society. Going back millennia, places of worship were created with height in order to demonstrate connection with god: not just Christian cathedrals, but Buddhist stupas, Islamic mosques, Jewish synagogues and Hindu temples. They were designed literally to impress: to make worshippers feel small in relation to the power of god. This remains the case in modern society: museums, palaces, opera houses and parliaments use height to infer a sense of awe in the greatness of culture, art, royalty, politics, retail and so on. 

The power of height can be seen just a three minute walk from The Post Building. When architect Norman Foster won a competition to make the inner courtyard of the British Museum a useable space, his answer was simple: a roof made of 3,312 panes of glass. It created a sense of awe and power in the company of such an esteemed collection.

Additionally, the British Museum redevelopment showed how tall spaces share flexibility and adaptability. Similarly, as this project of turning a sorting office into a world-class workplace demonstrates, height allows for versatility and new incarnations of a space. Just as people require height and volume for abstract and big-picture thinking, they also require lower ceilings and more intimate spaces to support detail-oriented thinking.  The Post Building’s vast cubic capacity provides space and maximum flexibility, including floating decks on levels one and two.