Types, materials, advantages, requirements: here is an architect’s guide to suspended ceiling design together with a video and an example to download
One of the final stages of an architectural project is the design and installation of a suspended ceiling. An effective design of this sort of “second ceiling” requires balancing multiple objective, such as aesthetic, acoustics and integration with the building’s infrastructure. This focus will cover the main aspects of a suspended ceiling design describing different types of structure, aesthetic and functional benefits and providing a practical example to use as a creative inspiration for your projects.
How many times it occurs to you to enter a residential environment (but also non-residential) and have the feeling that something is missing, that furnishings are arranged in a space without a precise location, or that lighting is not adequate for the environments.
This does not mean that designing a suspended ceiling is an indispensable step for the interior design project, but it is particularly useful for:
- improving space arrangement
- emphasizing perspectives that are conceived during the floor plan design
- re-proportioning existing environments without having to intervene with more consistent construction works
- creating scenic lighting for environments, furnishings and architectural elements.
Suspended ceiling design: most recurring types
A suspended ceiling (sometimes referred to as false ceiling or dropped ceiling) is a modern architectural component that is now mandatory for technical and commercial properties, and also becoming increasingly popular for residential use as well.
To design an effective suspended ceiling it is advisable, first of all, to know the different types available on the market.
A false ceiling can be classified based on the type of structure and type of panel.
Depending on the type of structure we can distinguish:
- false ceiling in adherence | consisting of a metal framework, fixed directly to the slab by means of special connection hooks, to which the selected slabs are placed for the intervention
- suspended false ceiling | consisting of suspension and support elements (steel hangers) that are suspended and connected to the floor slab holding the metal frame
- self-supporting false ceilings | the metal support structure does not rest on the ceiling, as in the two previous cases, but on the perimeter walls through steel profiles.
The substructure can be exposed, flush, recessed or concealed with removable inspection panels according to a wide range of different grid profiles, tile edge details and interlocking metal sections.
Suspended ceiling panels are generally made of plasterboard, rock wool or other insulating materials to choose according to the design requirements but you can also find some innovative solutions, such as panels that are:
- optimized for thermal and acoustic regulation
- moisture resistant
- with high sound-absorbing capacity
- with wooden slats
- with integrated lighting
- with customizable backlighting decorations
- in membranes made with a shape-memory polymer (tensocielo or stretched ceilings).
Useful tips for designing a suspended ceiling
When planning a suspended ceiling it is essential to pay attention to the premises heights.
According to the U.K. building standards, it is required ” a minimum ceiling height of 2.3 meters for at least 75% of the gross internal area”. Specifically for the London area the requirement provides ” To address the unique heat island effect of London and the distinct density and flatted nature of most of its residential development, a minimum ceiling height of 2.5m for at least 75% of the gross internal area is strongly encouraged so that new housing is of adequate quality, especially in terms of light, ventilation and sense of space”.
Therefore, it is essential to have a starting inter-floor height where the suspended ceiling structure properly fits.
In general, it is always advisable to not lower the ceiling less than 2.40 m, especially in large rooms, for regulatory reasons but also to respect the right proportions between width, length and height of the rooms.
Main advantages and requirements
As we have mentioned in the introduction, designing a suspended ceiling combines technical and functional advantages to aesthetical ones. In fact, a suspended ceiling:
- contributes to the acoustic and thermal insulation of the environment in which it is installed
- allows you to easily conceal electrical wires, pipes, heating and air conditioning systems
- envisages different types of lighting, including recessed light fittings
- helps to re-proportion environments
- significantly changes the appearance and use of an existing environment with small efforts
- is a safe and cheap material
- guarantees great freedom of design.
In Europe, suspended ceilings must meet the CE Marking Requirements (regulated by UNI EN 13964: 2007) with regard to:
- safety in case of fire (reaction to fire and fire resistance)
- static and dimensional resistance (load bearing capacity of the substructure and bending resistance of the membrane components)
- acoustics (acoustic insulation of airborne noise and sound absorption)
- thermal insulation
- hygiene and environmental safety (no release of formaldehyde and / or other dangerous substances, absence of asbestos release).
Suspended ceiling thermal and acoustic insulation
Improving the thermo-acoustic insulation of a building from the outside is not always possible or convenient due to operational difficulties, excessive costs linked to the characteristics of the buildings and the type of work and installation.
In all these cases, it is possible to intervene directly from the inside of the building through the installation of thermal insulating or sound-absorbing false ceilings mounted at the intrados of the floor. In fact, the interspace that is created when mounting a false ceiling can be adequately used for the installation of panels for thermal or acoustic insulation.
Currently, with the latest generation panels, it is possible to balance the quality of the result and the cost-effectiveness of the intervention.
The two functions (thermal and acoustic insulation) can also be performed by the same panel, or pre-paired panels, and work combined. To choose the type of panel material and the most appropriate thickness, it is always advisable to perform a thermal analysis of the panel that takes into account all the parameters deriving from the ceiling layers and the climatic conditions of both external and internal environments. The verification will also consider the possibility of incurring in interstitial humidity, condensation while optimizing the panel thickness.
With regard to the acoustic treatment of rooms intended for particular functions, there are specially designed panels that, placed in the interspace between the floor and plasterboard, prevent the floor and the false ceiling from vibrating with the same frequency and from spreading noise. The interspace, in fact, if not correctly designed, could generate a resonance effect and amplify vibrations.
Suspended ceiling lighting design
When designing a suspended ceiling, you will also need to plan one of the fundamental elements of architecture: lighting.
Lighting design involves considering the reflection and refraction index of materials and selecting the type of lighting (cold, warm, direct, diffuse, spotlight, etc …) consistent with the initial design concept.
Generally speaking, lighting can be provided by recessed spotlights in the false ceiling, suspended chandeliers, cuts in plasterboard and LED strips. The most striking effect can be achieved when installing cove lighting.
Designing a cove lighting means correctly sizing the space between the perimeter walls and the vertical plasterboards and correctly calibrating the luminous intensity of spotlights or LED strips. The light can be directed towards the ceiling surface or the wall below, thus opening up internal spaces.
Different lighting systems can be combined in the same environment. Based on the effect and mood that you want to obtain, it is possible to combine spotlights with cove lighting or suspended lights with differentiated ignitions, which can be managed separately according to user needs.
There are no fixed measures to design a cove lighting. However, it is possible to establish a range of clearances based on the experience acquired.
As a general rule, it is advisable to have the possibility to lower the ceiling height of about 20-30 cm and to protrude the ledges with the light source of 15-30 cm, so to have at least 15 cm of vertical space between the ledges and the upper floor slab (see image above).
Suspended ceiling design: a practical example
This week’s case study will give an overview on a suspended ceiling design through a project example produced with a BIM software.
Starting from a pre-defined residential environment, let’s suppose that we want to reconfigure the spaces by adopting a suspended ceiling solution that particularizes the living area of our housing unit with shape and light. The existing space consists of a large living area connected to the kitchen through a large opening.
The objective of the project intervention is to visually connect the two environments (kitchen and living area) and lowering the ceiling so to set LEDs and spotlights in the frame.
We have decided to lower the ceiling of 20 cm, so as to guarantee a minimum room height of 2.70 m and meet the regulatory requirements.
Since the environment is large and not particularly high, we choose not to completely lower the ceiling but to incorporate only a central lowered section that emphasizes the perspective on the fireplace wall and towards the kitchen without reducing natural light and fresh air in the environment.
Regarding the colour choices, the white plasterboard frame contrasting the smoke grey floor background is interrupted only by the black cuts where spotlights are to be installed. The simple geometry of the design creates special scenic effects thanks to the lighting choice and the perspectives that guide the user eye towards the focal points of the room.