Roughly 40% of St. Louis high-rises don’t have a 13th floor

Triskaidekaphobia is built into a number of St. Louis high-rises:

An informal survey by St. Louis Public Radio of 68 skyscrapers in the St. Louis area finds about 41 percent skip over 13 in counting their floors. Not surprisingly, most of them are hotels or residential properties where people pay to stay…

Oftentimes, architects have solved the problem by putting mechanical components for elevators, and heating and cooling systems on the floor, rather than offices or living spaces, she said…

By far the simplest solution is just renaming it the 14th floor, she said…

As irrational as it is to purposefully mislabel floor numbers, there may be some value in the superstition as well. According to Kathryn Kuhn, an associate professor of sociology at St. Louis University, commonly shared superstitions can lend to individuals a sense control and significance…

Ye explained that in Chinese, the characters for 4 and 14 share a similar pronunciation with the word for death or dying. Thus many high-rises in China leave out the 4th and 14th floors. In some regions, 13 is actually considered a lucky number, he said.

This is a fairly common architectural feature. It highlights the importance of meanings and values for humans, even as they push past natural limits of getting off the ground by building high into the sky. Buildings don’t just have meaning because they are there; they have meanings because humans give them meaning. And, of course, this can differ widely across societies and culture even if they have buildings that look and function similarly.

I’m not sure I like the idea that this is an issue of rational vs. irrational thinking. Such a dichotomy often depends on somebody getting to label one side rational or irrational. What is necessarily irrational about fears and emotions, things that all human beings have? I suppose it is irrational only if most fears can be argued away using scientific explanations.

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