Post 467 –by Gautam Shah


A classical ceiling looks fairly a complex entity in a design history books, and a virtually inexplicable element in a real encounter. The knowledge about such constructions of ceilings is relevant for restorers and may not be used by a modern-day designer. The process of creating a complex entity is a learning for any designer.

Opera Garnier ceiling

It usually is made of elements that are un-classifiable into roof-floor underside, ceiling, wall, sides of openings, parts of cabinets or a curtain system. A classical ceiling is a product of years of evolution, where budget was never a concern. Delivering an exclusive solution was necessary for the designer or crafts-person to survive in the field.

Versailles apartment of Dauphin

Classical ceilings seem very complex due to integration of numerous elements, and surface treatments over them. Both of these created a seamless form. The ceiling and the peripheral elements such as furniture placement, flooring, illumination, were well matched. The job took several months to years, allowing improvisations, corrections and fine tuning of details. The designer was working with a time-tested style and knowledge of proportion, scale and modulation.

Jesus College Oxford Hall Coffer and Cove ceiling

Materials were lathe and plaster of mud, lime or gypsum. These were first shaped to the required form, and super covered with cast gypsum boards. These boards had articulated geometric, floral and other bold textured designs. The total sense of integration was so acute that designs of tapestries, flooring, painting frames etc. as “cartoons” (dummy full scale replicas on paper) were reused for ceilings and other purposes.

National Statuary Hall ceiling coffered ceiling

Ceiling of Mir Castle

Some of the important features of classical ceilings are:

Coffers are square, hexagonal, octagonal or circular sunken panels in ceiling, soffit or vault, with strong joists like members.


Panels are unitized members in ceilings in the form of straight, singly or doubly curved members. Panels are plain or texture moulded, cast and installed or formed over the ceiling structure. Panels help repeat a pattern and reduce cracking over age.


Moulded bands occur as top of the openings and wall elements (fire places, alcoves, cabinets). These are narrow elements that endow strong horizontal character. A moulded band could be very extensive almost touching the ceiling cove (a curvilinear member at the junction of wall and ceiling) or forming the cove itself. Cove band also form the bottom of a shelf that gives a floating effect to the ceiling. Cove bands are treated with mouldings or traces. Moulded bands have repeat designs bordered with fluted veins or a fretted design.

Mouldings Cornices

Cornices are ledge like bands that are placed atop a wall or its panelling system. Cornices are projecting or cantilevered features, fairly articulated compared to cove bands. Cornices occur at wall junctions, and have inset crests, emblems, designed blocks or mould stripes. Cornices are curved or mitred joined at corners.

A Finial is nominally placed on terrace corners or over supports of railing, but Hung Finials are placed at corners of the room ceiling and in intermittently in passages as distraction element.

Cresting downwards

Cresting are arrows or pointed toppings on architectural parapets of masonry or cast steel. But in ceilings these are used in upside down form as Hung cresting forming bottom decoration of ceiling or its of mouldings.

Bolection is series of raises or projections over linear elements. Its origin is believed to be Triglyphs and Metopes under the Roman exterior cornice.


A Plafond is French for a ceiling. Plafond is a flat, vaulted or domed ceiling, with some pattern, formed ornamentation or depiction of a story. It is a 17C French word, from plat (flat) + fond (bottom). It may have originated from Latin fundus (bottom). Earlier usage of platfond are, plattus / platys + fond-background. A plafond is an architectural provision to show skies, upper floors, or a skylight. Plafonds were popular ceiling features in tall state rooms from 17 to 19th C. This created illusive bright aeriform upper space to contrast with the heavy occupation on ground. It added illusion of a break in the ceiling. It was viewed from a distance so scale and figurative both were manipulated and exploited to add many things in a small extent.




ALFARJE -ceilings

Post 458 -by Gautam Shah



The word Alfarje meaning panelled wood ceiling, derives from Arabic al-furjah. It was a very common feature of Islamic and Spanish Moorish architecture. The Islamic dominated style began after the Moorish conquest of Spain in 711, but has common cultural effects of Moors, Christian, and Jewish. During the 12th C the Mudejar style of architecture emerged in Andalusia in southern Spain. This style lasted till 16th C. however, even after that period it remained popular in Andalusia and other regions of Spain. A modern version of it, Neo-Mudejar style was used by modern architects in Madrid and other cities during 19th C. (P.S. Farjee in Persian and Urdu languages mean fake, bogus or artificial and ceilings are called False ceiling, if cover the roof or floor underside as a suspended element).

intricate Islamic carvings in the Alhambra Palace, Granada

Maluenda Iglesia de Santa Maria -Alfarje wood panel ceiling

Mudejar refers to the art and architecture that were created by the Moors who continued to stay in the Christian areas after these ones passed from the Moors to the Christians. These Moors who remained in Spain, without being converted to Christianity were known as Mudejars. The Mudejars worked in Spain as craft’s persons, such as alarifes or master masons, carpenters, potters, and tile and glass-makers. In the middle of 16th C. they were forced to convert as Christians, and were called Moriscos.

Santa Maria Church, Maluenda

The Mudejar style of architecture used brick as the main building material. It was intricately plastered as seen in beehive ceilings and stalactites of palaces like the Alhambra. Cobalt blue and white ceramic tiles of geometrical motifs were used for roofs and walls. Mudejar buildings used horseshoe arches. An important planning feature of this architecture was use of patios with flowing water bodies, and fountains and balconies with screens.


The most outstanding element of Mudejar style was the panelled wood ceiling. It was known as Alfarje. The ceiling structure is made of joists and filler panels, both of which are carved, and inlaid with ivory and other precious materials. The same skills were also used for other wood works, such as furniture and floors in craft called marquetry.




Sistine Chapel ceiling with Art-work by Michel Angelo between 1508 and 1512

A ceiling is a finish system applied over the inner or the bottom side of a roof or floor, compared with a flooring system which is applied to the outer or top side of a floor or roof. It is considered the upper limit of a room space.

Embossed Brass sheet ceiling units

Ceilings function as a ‘touching’ system, by being very close to the under side of a floor or roof system, or as a suspended system, little away from the floor or roof. Ceilings as a Touching system provide a cover, following the under side contour of a floor or roof. Whereas, suspended ceilings are designed to modulate the height values of space below and to cover space for various services.


Touching ceilings


Touching ceilings have no hanging or suspending members, so are more stable. Where small length hangers are required to accommodate conduits, wires etc., are of stiff materials only. Touching ceilings are made of preformed boards, wood planks, wood composite sheets, metal sheet forms, laminated paper composites, etc. fixed to a mono or bidirectional frame work of wood, sheet metal or rolled sections. The sections in turn may be hung through stiff hang fasteners from the roof structure such as joist soffit, beam or slab bottom. Touching ceilings are also like roof underside cladding or plaster. The cladding pieces are cut to accommodate the single, double or irregular curvature or slight variation in joints width. Plastered ceilings are deposits sprayed or trowel finished with suspended solids or foamed materials. The surface may be rendered for texturing or press hollowed for visual as well as acoustic needs.


Suspended ceilings


Suspended ceilings leave a back-space of various depths. The spaces are left to accommodate pipes and ducts and to enforce a desired finished surface curvature. Such ceilings to modulate the space below often leave substantial ‘dead’ space above. Ceiling materials with high stiffness such as wood planks, glass, require equally rigid structure. Ceilings made from modulated pieces (panels, stripes), stretchable materials and thin materials can accommodate stresses and may not require rigid fixing. However ceilings subjected to upward and downward stresses as a result of increase and decrease in interior air pressures (such as auditoria), require both, compressive as well as tensile hangers.

Commercial acoustic boards ceiling


Greeks used ceilings primarily to cover the roofing elements like, beams, joists, rafters and truss. The ceilings had coffered configurations. Romans created concrete vaults with coffers to reduce the weight. The Pantheon five rows of coffers in the dome and each coffer had receding flutes at the edge. In Gothic cathedrals under side of galleries, triforium etc. had flat ceilings. English medieval period the ceiling’s shape originated from the vaulting flutes terminating into complex circular patterns. Ceilings became extremely articulated in Renaissance period. Non secular buildings had ceilings in all rooms with guild work.


A tall ceiling with planes meeting at an angle, similar to a church is called a cathedral ceiling. A vaulted ceiling follows the vault geometry but accentuates it with many such repeated shapes. A concave or barrel-shaped ceiling is curved or rounded upward. A coffered ceiling is has recessed square or octagonal panels. A dropped ceiling is a touching ceiling. A cove ceiling uses a curved plaster transition between wall and ceiling, to create one continuous surface.


Ceiling Patterns


Ceilings are patterned for two distinct reasons: 1 to impose a design discipline, and, 2 to impose a texture. Patterns emerge from the natural grains (colour, variation, orientation) of the material, lay out of structural or natural joints, regimen forced by the sub structures, fasteners (screws, rivets), junctions of geometric and other shapes, etc. Patterns are created for providing texture to the surface of the ceiling. Textures either help highlight or subdue the joints, grains and shapes present in the ceiling. Textures accentuate or de-emphasize the light reflection, gloss etc. Textures, perforations and cavities enhance the sound absorption.

Rose Wood Ceiling Rameswaram Temple S India