Tuesday, May 08, 2007

We All Knew It: High Ceilings Are Good in Churches

The wisdom of the Church has been known for millenia, and now science has "proven" it: high ceilings are good for expansive, creative thinking.
A recent study at the University of Minnesota suggests that ceiling height affects problem- solving skills and behavior by priming concepts that encourage certain kinds of brain processing. "Priming means a concept gets activated in a person's head," researcher Joan Meyers-Levy told LiveScience. "When people are in a room with a high ceiling, they activate the idea of freedom. In a low-ceilinged room, they activate more constrained, confined concepts."

The labeling for their somewhat abstract concepts, "freedom" and "confinement," comes from a speculative paper on how lofty cathedral ceilings might encourage a different religious experience from the low ceilings of a modest chapel. Theirs may be the first empirical study to make use of these terms in describing concepts that influence behavior. Meyers-Levy and Zhu will publish their results this August in the Journal of Consumer Research.

This study was meant to apply to business methods, recommending that "managers should want noticeably higher ceilings for thinking of bold initiatives." What could be bolder than establishing a connection with God through the sacramental system of the liturgy? Let's end the age of ecclesiastical architectural mediocrity!

4 comments:

Publia said...

This is a very interesting post. Thanks for sharing the information.

JB Powers said...

So Dr. McNamara,

The only counter example I can think of is St. Thomas of Cantebury on Kenmore in Chicago. It is a very pretty church, with beautiful windows and a Adams style ceiling about 10 feet in elevation. I think it is by Joseph McCarthy. The church is somewhere between a parish center and a full chapel in level of completion.

Begs the question, what would this one look like, if the Great Depression did not stop building on it. The Windows (not stained, but still ornate) are awesome. What would it look like with a taller ceiling?

JBP

Bare Ruin'd Choirs said...

What's the name of the church illustrating this post? It seems to have adopted a relatively novel approach to re-ordering, especially with regard to the altar rails/choir-wall. Curved steps in a Neo-Gothic church; not good though.

Anonymous said...

This church is St. Paul's in Chicago, the photo by James Morris from the book Heavenly City