The Upwards Gaze: Ceilings Finally Embrace Aesthetics

Often ignored, ceilings are finally taking up aesthetics.

The architect Ben van Berkel of UN Studio selected the ceilings from Hunter Douglas Architectural as much for their linearity and sculptural qualities as for the clean detailing and acoustical performance.

All photos courtesy Hunter Douglas.

Whether it’s a rectilinear grid of acoustic ceiling tile or fashionably exposed joists and ductwork, to many architects the ceiling is often a strictly utilitarian affair. Still, there’s no reason why a concern with function should keep the “sixth surface” from being beautiful. Indeed, some architects and designers are now looking for ways to incorporate the ceiling into their overall designs, while encouraging inhabitants to look up and find shape, movement, color and texture.

When Avery Dennison, a leader in packaging and labeling, upgraded its headquarters in Glendale, California, they wanted their workplace to better reflect their company culture. HOK architects was entrusted to lead the project; their primary task was updating the expanse of wall-to-wall private offices into something more stimulating. The aim was for shared spaces to have a natural flow and for an expressive ceiling to contrast with the straight-edged geometry of the building.

As the newest addition to Hunter Douglas’ award-winning High Profile Series™ product line, Curved HPS offers flexible, customizable design for a range of indoor commercial applications. By using a series of differing beam radii, Curved HPS can be used to create an undulating appearance, giving any ceiling a clean, modern aesthetic mixed with a sense of motion.

To accomplish this, HOK turned to Hunter Douglas Architectural. Across the multipurpose room and lobby stairs, HOK designed a layout that included a series of curved extruded aluminum beams. Each beam has soft arcs with varying radii that contribute to a random appearance. “The organic, ‘flowing water’ pattern of the ceiling juxtaposes beautifully against the geometric, orthogonal surroundings of the rest of the space. “It’s powerful without being overwhelming,” said Clay Pendergrast, Director of Interior Design HOK Los Angeles.

The Avery Dennison headquarters is just one example of how rethinking a purely functional view of ceilings can transform space, creating a central visual focus that keeps occupants looking up. In this New York coffeehouse for example, Hunter Douglas’ straight and curved beams allowed designers to extend their concept upward and reinforce the design elements in the rest of the room.

For this NYC coffee shop, designers took inspiration from the local environment, developing a modern, sleek concept that reflects the constant movement of the city, and the liveliness of the adjacent train station. The design called for a multi-tier ceiling with a series of straight wood-finished metal beams overlaid by a number of curved metal beams, set to emulate the look of converging and diverging train tracks.

Other versatile options like the linear box series used in UNStudio’s Agora Theatre in Lelystad, the Netherlands, aid designers in creating unique, expressive spaces that break away from traditional layouts.

“At Agora, theatrical drama and performance are not restricted to the stage and to the evening,” says architect Ben van Berkel, “the party should start in the foyer.” While the linear ceilings and white walls contrast dramatically with the foyer’s exuberance, it is precisely that counterpoint that serves van Berkel’s concept so well.


The Desert Sky Transit Center in Phoenix, Arizona, also placed emphasis on the ceiling as an essential design element. For the new hub, lead architect Dev Pawar from Architectural Resource Team selected the linear deep box exterior ceiling system in metallic green.

With new products to inspire them, designers are taking a more holistic approach to design, one that seeks to instill structure with identity. Especially exciting are the possibilities for creating engaging and original interior spaces. With ever-more-customizable solutions that need not sacrifice price, safety, or quality, we can look forward to looking up.

Dev Pawar from the Architectural Resource Team said that the custom-made metallic green color palette was chosen because it mirrors the neighborhood’s existing architecture. The center now stands as an oasis in the Maryvale community landscape, its canopy a safe-harbor and respite from the sun on Phoenix’s sultry days.

For more information, visit the Hunter Douglas architectural website at

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