Master seminar, spring 2023
Directed by Mari Hvattum
A ceiling is the upper interior surface of a room. Sometimes simply the underside of the structure above (be it a roof or a floor), other times an independent membrane, the ceiling has an ambiguous tectonic status. Miming structure but rarely structural, and often with an unobvious materiality, ceilings offer an unsurpassed field for representation, meta-morphosis, and architectural “Nachleben”. This master seminar explores the richness and ambiguities of the ceiling – an architectural element charged, so says Gottfried Semper, with the task of overcoming “the oppressive feeling evoked by any separation between us and the open sky.”
The course has explored ceilings from all over the world in in-depth detail, finally selecting six ceilings to exhibit as models.
Marcel Breuer, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, 1966
The ceiling consists of precast concrete panels suspended with wires from large concrete beams. The panels create a grid resembling a coffered ceiling, with 8 or 10 coffers in each panel. A void, or plenum, above the panels holds electrical and technical installation, concealed from oblique view. The suspended ceilings are found on three floors containing the museum’s open gallery spaces. They are detailed with adjustable track lighting and rails for partitions used to subdivide the galleries.
Rakel Emilie Paulsen
Maria Dahl Nielsen
Islamic muqarna ceiling, no date
In Islamic architecture, muqarna is a specialized craft that has been passed down through generations, from the early 12th century onwards. Muqarnas can be found in the underside of domes, pendentives, arches and vaults, especially in mosques. Muqarnas originated from the squinch; a triangular corner that supports the base of a dome. The squinch has the visual purpose of changing a square into a circular shape. The intricate 3D form of the muqarnas is translated from a 2D plan. In order to understand the geometric complexity of the muqarna, we designed our own 2D plan and extruded it into a paper model.
Eero Saarinen, American Embassy, Oslo, 1957
Located in the 4-storey atrium that makes up the central space of the embassy, the suspended ceiling is composed of 16 irregular pyramids forming a diamond-shaped plane of 10×16 m. The folded concrete plane is merely 80 mm thick, hung from two crossing steel beams above. At the tip of each pyramid is a hole providing artificial lighting, while a strip of glass between the wall and the ceiling allows a combination of daylight and artificial light to shine through. The ceiling’s triangular motif links it to the geometry of the building as a whole.
Yuen Shing Chan
Étienne-Louis Boullée, Metropole, ca. 1780
This is an early draft of one of Boullée’s most famous paper architecture projects – Metropole – a church dedicated to the Cult of the Supreme Being. The model shows the upper 150 metres of the enormous structure, consisting of three overlapping domes taking the shape of an imaginary sky. In Boullée’s drawings, the ceiling is not simply a painted representation of the sky but a clever imitation of it, with cloud-shaped surfaces cut into the dome.
Johannes Andersen Krogh
Otto Wagner, Grand Kassenhalle in Österreichische Postsparkasse, Vienna, 1904‒1906
The Grand Kassenhalle is located on the first floor of the Austrian Postal Savings Bank in Vienna. Grand Kassenhalle was a space for customer service, situated in the covered atrium at the center of the building. The large glass ceiling illuminates the entire Kassenhalle as well as the floor below, as light shines through the glass brick floor of the hall. The ceiling follows Otto Wagner’s idea of function and form, and works both as a stylistic and a practical element in the building.
Bror Oscar Bjørneset
The Yongle Emperor, Temple of Heaven, Beijing, ca 1406–1420
The Temple of Heaven is a complex of imperial religious buildings situated in the southeastern part of Beijing. This particular building is called The Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests. The ceiling is supported by an interlocking bracket system that rests on 28 wooden columns: four inner, twelve middle, and twelve outer pillars, representing the four seasons, twelve months, and twelve traditional Chinese hours. The coffered ceiling is painted with an exquisite design of nine dragons, representing the emperor and his power.