Stalactite ceilings: the 60s, the 12th century

The Standard Hotel Downtown LA

Julie Sohn store, Barcelona

While looking for photos of 60s/70s stalactite and fantasy cave ceilings, I unexpectedly discovered that sculptural geometric and prism ceilings first appeared in the 12th century in Persia – probably due to increased skill with locally available gypsum plaster – and spread throughout the Islamic world and then beyond. The style is known as mocárabe, honeycomb work or stalactite work (Arabic al-halimat al-‘uliya for ‘the overhang’) and consists of a complex array of vertical prisms resembling stalactites. The Qur’an’s prohibition against graven images naturally motivated artisans to exploit geometric shapes, 2D and then inevitably 3D too. The Alhambra in Granada, Spain (four bottommost photos) is a famous example of this stalactite ornamentation, but the style was adopted elsewhere too – the photo directly below is an Armenian monastery. More information on mocárabe here. Above, the photos of modern stalactite ceilings are as follows: unknown hotel lobby (vintage photo by junkyard dogs); the Los Angeles Standard Hotel’s restaurant (recent photo by ChimayBleue); and the Julie Sohn store in Barcelona. The Barcelona ceiling comes as no surprise given how much Moorish architecture is found in Spain. For other fantasy cavern interiors, see some Detroit Gothic here and the weird technicolor stalactite ceiling by Miquel Barcelo at United Nations’ Geneva HQ here. Apart from their beauty, prisms or stalactites also function as acoustic baffles that decrease echoey sound reflection, and this is no doubt part of the reason these designs are so popular in hotel lobbies and other cavernous spaces.

Gandzasar Monastery, stalactite ornamentation

Above, Armenian monastery ceiling. Below, four photos of the honeycomb work in the Alhambra are by desengaseswamibuhunda and freddieh. Click all photos for source.

stalactite mouldings

Ceiling of the hall of the two sisters

Mocárabes

Muqarne

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2 Responses to “Stalactite ceilings: the 60s, the 12th century”

  1. john hopper Says:

    Interesting article. The first photo would make me feel uncomfortable below that ceiling. The shapes look far too sharp, intrusive and threatening to feel at ease. Modern acoustic ceilings are sometimes some of the most beautiful, if still practical constructions around, particularly when imaginatively lit.

    I love the last photo though. Is it my imagination or do they look like lots of little elephants?

  2. Daniel Says:

    Yeah, acoustic/sculptured ceilings really is one of those things that should make a comeback. They really have a way of raising the cozyness.
    Personally I’d love that far out take from the first picture. They look “soft” to me despite the shape. Cozy cozy…
    I love how you have an eye for and bring out the essence of mid-century arch style. Truly a great blog!

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