Wow, thanks Eric, for kicking off another awesome thread!
I love this topic in particular, because “looking up” has felt like a moral imperative ever since I read, a young child, The Phantom Tollbooth. There’s a story in there about two cities, one in which Milo finds himself, that’s ugly and falling apart, and another city that’s off in the distance and magnificent. Milo learns the city he’s in became dirty because it’s inhabitants realized they could get to where they were going faster if they looked down at their feet while they walked. So everyone did, and they never noticed all the decay. The gleaming city in the distance was the city they thought they were really in…
So looking up is important, and fun!
Here are some of my favorite rewards for having looked up:
The ceiling of the I.M. Pei’s East Building of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC.
And the lovely pattern of sunlight it casts on the floor, which is mirrored again in shadows of the coffered first floor ceiling.
Inspired, no doubt, by Louis Kahn’s ceilings for the Yale University Art Gallery in New Haven, Connecticut.
(Detail photo by Liz Waytkus via Flickr)
And possibly also by the complex vaults of the lofty Kings College Chapel which I got to see at Cambridge University in England.
And… also, possibly inspired by… Frank Lloyd Wright’s ceilings for the Johnson Wax headquarters in Racine, Wisconsin. (Pictured here: the lobby entrance. Fun fact: to celebrate the revolutionary chemistry which was being researched there, the glass rods in the ceiling are meant to evoke, and are actually made from the same glass as, test tubes!)
And at that same place, another stunning ceiling I’ve visited is the incredible lilypad forest of the Johnson Wax main administration room.
Some less transparent but nonetheless magnificent ceilings I’ve seen and loved include:
Rockwell Kent’s 1930’s ceiling murals at the jewel box Cape Cinema in Dennis, Mass., on Cape Cod.
And all the way at the other end of the scale, the ceiling of one of the largest theaters in the world, at Radio City Music Hall in New York.
And in New York, one of my favorite ceilings from anywhere in the world, which comes complete with illuminated stars (!), is the massive barrel vault floating over Grand Central Terminal.
Which (fun fact!) has a hidden secret: when the restorers finished the years-long work which revealed the vivid color of the original painting, they left a tiny square un-restored, showing how thickly dark it had become from the previous century of cigarette and cigar smoke of commuting New Yorkers.
Lastly, at the southernmost tip of Manhattan, the newest grand ceiling is at Santiago Calatrava’s “Oculus” at the World Trade Center. I’ve been there many, many times, but didn’t know until right now when I saw it on the web… The glass arc of the ceiling’s pinnacle opens up every year on September 11th, and the sun traces a beam of light across the length of the glowing chamber.